Rather than wrap up a toaster, Seattle-based wedding planner Carnegie Kincaid offers to organize her best friend Lily's pending nuptials. The wise-cracking Kincaid travels to the location chosen for the ceremony, a lavender farm on nearby San Juan Island, and soon stumbles upon the sexy but now stabbed-in-the back body of the island's resident playboy / handyman / alleged drug dealer. The bloody encounter sets into motion a tale of love and intrigue that twists and turns right up until Lily says, "I do."
You May Now Kill the Bride, the fifth novel in Deborah Donnelly's "Wedding Planner Mystery" series, continues in the same vein as its predecessors: Death Takes a Honeymoon (2005), May the Best Man Die (2003), Died to Match (2002) and Veiled Threats (2001).
From the start, Donnelly conceived of the project as a series in which successive weddings would provide the basis for new characters and conflicts. Nonetheless, she concedes that finding the energy to churn out a new mystery novel every year can be challenging (she's already working on the next book in the series) and adds that coming up with new plot ideas can also be taxing. "You can't introduce a plot twist toward the end of the book without laying the groundwork for it earlier on," she says. "It's like creating a crossword puzzle, making sure everything connects neatly with everything else to make a satisfying whole."
Donnelly's obvious love of the writing craft, however, overcomes any potential roadblocks she might face. She says that people she reads about, as well as her routine interactions with friends and strangers (including a little innocent eavesdropping), provide inspiration for new characters all the time. "I sometimes use my friends' names in the books, just for fun," she says. "But the character who really connects to my own life is Carnegie's business partner, Eddie Breen. Eddie's a gruff old salt who's a lot like my father."
She also readily draws on herself to flesh out Kincaid. Donnelly, a long-time Seattle resident who moved to Boise in 2001, shares a geographical connection with her heroine. "Just before Veiled Threats, the first book of the series, went to press," she says, "I did a Word search-and-replace on the manuscript and changed Carnegie's home town from Spokane to Boise just in case. She didn't come here until four books later, in Death Takes a Honeymoon, but then I was glad that I'd made the change."
But the similarities don't stop there. "I have to confess that Carnegie sprang right into life because she's a lot like me, hard-headed and soft-hearted," Donnelly says. "And she's a redhead, though younger and a lot more striking-looking than I am. But the big difference is that she rushes in where I would definitely fear to tread. You wouldn't catch me stalking a murderer; I'd call the cops and lock my doors. She does have my values, though, and she certainly has my smart-ass tone of voice."
Donnelly's fully-developed characters are arguably the most compelling aspect of the series. Kincaid, in particular, comes across as warm and smart, with just enough self-doubt to make readers root for her without reservation. She also regularly delivers droll one-liners that are often laugh-out-loud funny, making every book an enjoyable page-turner from beginning to end. Sure, some of the coincidences are a bit contrived, and the ending is overly neat.
Still, You May Now Kill the Bride suffers no pretensions, and intelligent readers will delight in Donnelly's flowing style and savvy humor. Donnelly's comedic acumen, it should be noted, starts right on the cover--she comes up with the tongue-in-cheek book titles herself. "I didn't realize when I started in the business that most authors have their titles changed by the publisher," she says. "So it's been fun and sort of flattering that Bantam Dell has kept mine."
Donnelly's "Wedding Planner Mystery" series is often billed as "chick lit," a condescending term in some circles, but it doesn't bother the author. "The label is fine with me," she says, "it depends on your definition. If chick lit is lively fiction about young single women coping with careers and romance, then that's what I write. If it's only about shopping and dieting, forget it."
Deborah Donnelly will give a reading at 2 p.m. on Feb. 11, at Barnes & Noble, 1315 N. Milwaukee. More information on Deborah Donnelly is available at www.deborahdonnelly.org.
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