Terror in Taffeta by Marla Cooper

This is book #10 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge. Please note that I read Fire in The Ashes by Jonathan Kozol immediately after I read Nickel and Dimed. The books pair well together, but since Grab the Lapels is #NoBoysAllowed, you can find my review on Goodreads.

Terror in Taffeta by Marla Cooper

published by Minotaur Books, March 2016

The premise: at a destination wedding in Mexico, unlikable bridesmaid Dana falls over dead in the middle of the ceremony. The bride’s demanding mother insists that wedding planner Kelsey figure out whodunit — especially since the police have said no one can leave the city. There are many suspects Kelsey uncovers and interrogates, giving the book several twists as she works toward finding the murderer.

Terror in Taffeta is the first book of its kind that I can remember reading. I think this is what readers call a “cozy mystery,” but I’m not sure. There is no violence or sex, and Cooper gives the story over to first-person narrator Kelsey, who navigates police, the bride and groom, the rude mother, an ex-boyfriend, and a best buddy who just can’t quit her. Quickly, the police take the bride’s sister into custody, claiming they have undeniable proof that she’s the murderer.

terror in taffeta

The book does have some seriously funny moments. When Dana collapses in the first few pages, Kelsey knows she needs to tell the bride, but she runs into the bride’s mother, first. Mrs. Abernathy, a wealthy white woman, insists Kelsey not ruin her daughter’s special day with bad news. Kelsey asks her friend Brody (whom she hired as the wedding photographer) what she should do. Brody asks, “What would Emily Post do?” Emily Post, of course, is the mother of the etiquette book — if you’re ever unsure what to do in a given situation, turn to Ms. Post.

Another great scene that had me in stitches was when Kelsey was trapped at the funeral of a man she didn’t know. She thinks, “I did the only appropriate thing there was to do: I pretended to pray.” In another example, the bridal party must move from their current luxury hotel. They’d planned a week-long visit, but the death of Dana expanded it to two weeks, and people with hotel reservations were about to show up. Kelsey worries about sticking Mrs. Abernathy in a shoddy hotel with “a room with a bed that vibrated if you inserted a couple of pesos.”

Kelsey isn’t just funny; she avoids the stereotype of the wedding planner who spends so much time planning weddings that she’s single and lonely. Instead, Kelsey uses an analogy:

People always assume that when you’re a wedding planner you want to get married really badly, when actually, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s like if you worked at an ice cream shop. For the first month, you’d eat ice cream every day and think, Wow, I’m super lucky; I can have ice cream whenever I want. Then you’d start gaining weight and getting bored with the ice cream. You’d eat it less often, and after a few months, you’d find that you preferred salty snacks.

Kelsey’s ex-boyfriend does play a role in the book, but he’s not what you’d think, and Cooper avoids the sticky-sweet love stuff.

Yet, there were a two big things that drove me insane in Terror in Taffeta, things I couldn’t get over that really spoiled the story for me. First, Mrs. Abernathy: she’s so contrary in every single situation that she felt unrealistic and under-developed. She’s classic racist white lady: “No live-o here-o” she tells Mexican police. And she’s obviously one of those moms who think only her birth children are “real” family.

“You think I’d let a murderer on the guest list? I approved every last person myself….But if it was one of the guests, it’d have to be one of his,” she said, jerking her thumb toward the groom.

What does Mrs. Abernathy have against her new son-in-law? Nothing readers have been told. However, I’ve met parents who don’t consider spouses “real” family. They indoctrinate their children with the notion that spouses come and go, but blood is forever. Ew, creepy, cultish.

How I picture Mrs. Abernathy — photo from AVclub.com

Mrs. Abernathy isn’t above a bit of aggression, either. She’ll jab Kelsey in the ribs to get her attention. Rib jabbing is common in books, but have you ever allowed someone to assault you in real life? I hated the way Mrs. Abernathy was a cliche.

Much worse than a cliched character was the premise stretched to nearly breaking: why is a wedding planner playing detective? Well, she doesn’t want Mrs. Abernathy to cancel her final payment. I kept mulling over the logistics: if you hire someone to do a job, you can’t cancel payment because they refuse to meddle in police affairs.

Kelsey does have the good (realistic) sense to call the police when a room has been ransacked and to turn over physical evidence. But then she demands the police do something with the evidence to release the bride’s sister.

“I don’t know why you have this vendetta against [the bride’s sister], but you can’t prove she did this. You know why? Because she didn’t. So why don’t you stop acting like Barney Fife and start doing your job — pronto!”

barney fife
photo from tumblr

Who demands the police do things — and for a person she doesn’t really know? Well, in books people do, which makes the police look like they don’t care. I was so frustrated that Kelsey was playing detective in Mexico when the police have told her she’s in the way, but I was also frustrated that they weren’t doing things with the evidence she gave them.

So, I talked to an actual police officer (thanks, Brad!). He said that the police don’t determine someone’s guilt or innocence, which is what Kelsey is demanding, but rely on the court system to present the evidence and come to a verdict. I see readers ask why police always seem so stupid in books; I’m pretty sure it’s because writers give “the mic” to characters running around trying to save the day for no good reason.

In the end, the nagging question — Why the hell is a wedding planner risking her life and career in a foreign country on solving a mystery without giving readers any real reason for doing so? — wouldn’t go away, and I was happy to be done with the book. That’s not to say plenty of readers didn’t love Terror in Taffeta. I read this book on recommendation from crime/mystery writer Margot Kinberg, the book has blurbs from excellent sources, and most ratings on Goodreads are five stars. Perhaps the genre wasn’t for me, so you’ll have to decide! Are you able to suspend disbelief when a realistic character makes unrealistic choices repeatedly?



This book was read as part of Cathy 746‘s challenge to read 20 books between June 1st and September 5th.


  1. You are rocking! I’m stuck exactly where I thought I’d be with my #20BooksofSummer, reading the extremely dense work of cultural theory by History of Consciousness professor Donna Haraway that’s on my list. Simians, Cyborgs and Women. I’ll whip through the rest when this is done, but it’s a10-page-an-evening affair.

    This book sounds **so annoying** because it sounds like a poor execution of an awesome premise. There are easy plausible reasons why the wedding planner would have to solve the crime. Maybe the client is extremely rich and influential and the wedding planner wants her to put in a good word at her country club, to get future business. Maybe Mrs. Abernathy (bad, cliche name, too) told the planner that “if things go well, i’ll set you up with all my friends. And by ‘well’ I mean you’ll be doing my pedicure if I ask you to.” Or, the author could have set it up that the bridal party was all on location a week early, and the main suspect/ person arrested was going to play a crucial part in the ceremony. The planner, a can-do girl thinks one simple piece of evidence will get her star performer out of jail, sets out to collect it, and one thing leads to another….

    And then, why choose Mexico, of all places where it would be much more difficult for a foreigner and an amateur to solve the crime? It makes me worry that perhaps the author thought the Mexican police are not a force to be reckoned with. A wedding planner swooping in where the Mexicans have failed has its own racist overtones, too. It’s really problematic!!

    This is one of those failures that makes me want to seize the premise and write a series of my own! A wedding planner who goes from event to event solving crimes is so great!! It gives you all the drama and fun of reading about crazy wedding stuff without having to get too deep into the characters. And there are locales. That’s a series of airport books if ever I’ve seen one. I’d make my planner emotionally unavailable for some reason…. pining over an ex, perhaps. And on every case there would be some love interest that the reader would really wish would work out. But she’d always end up flipping open the computer to e-stalk her ex, alone in her hotel room at 3a.m., case solved, wedding a triumph, heart still broken.

    My other premise for one of these series is a high school guidance counselor who is also a paranormal investigator. At the end of every book she saves the town but loses her job. Endless realms of small-town Americana to play with.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Or, the author could have set it up that the bridal party was all on location a week early, and the main suspect/ person arrested was going to play a crucial part in the ceremony. <—I really like this idea because they WERE at the location a week early!

      Looks to me like you've already written half the book! 😀 I did worry about the Mexico part. The police were not incompetent, though, which was a relief. They were more like, "Run along, silly wedding planner, we're police and you're an idiot." If you've ever watched way too many James Bond movies (or perhaps all of them), society TOTALLY lets Bond get away with having a new "love of his life" in every movie, so it could work for a wedding planner too. She had this ex there…they had dated in the U.S. and then he picked up and moved to Mexico to be a private pilot. And guess to where he relocated!? Right where the wedding is located. So, he's around, but she's not hoping to be swept off her feet, which I appreciate.


  2. Thanks, GtL, for for your candor. I’m glad you found some things to like about the book (I liked the wit, too!). But you raised some important issues, too, and I’m glad you did.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely my issue; when it comes to breaking the law or abusing it in some way (which Kelsey is doing), I get very anxious and don’t like the story. And I know most crime detective novels have a character who totally “goes rogue,” so maybe it’s not a genre for me! I’m definitely glad I tried, though:) Thank you for your recommendation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Does this mean Anne is next? I myself haven’t read any cozy mysteries, but they always look like a lot of fun and I always associate them with rainy days for some reason. I’m glad to hear this one was at least funny, despite the issues you had with it. Great review!


  4. A wedding murder sounds like so much fun, and like something Hercule Poirot would tackle (as MyBookJacket commented), but I’m sad to hear about the plausibility issues. Your photo of Mrs. Abernathy is hilarious! She reminds me so much of the southern mother in the movie “Revenge of the Bridesmaids” (a movie I would not recommend to anyone due to the underdeveloped characters and cliche plot). But the book sounds hilarious and Kelsey’s analogy is incredibly funny, so I feel the “cozy mystery” label really fits this book. Fantastic review as usual!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi, Melanie, I wasn’t sure whether you would want me to reply or not, but since you tagged me when you Tweeted the link, I thought I’d take a chance and say hi. First of all, I’m glad you liked the humor! Humor is incredibly subjective, so I’ll call that a win. 🙂

    I’m sorry the book wasn’t satisfying for you overall. I hear what you’re saying, though. One element of cozy mysteries (in addition to no sex, violence, or strong language) is that it’s always an amateur sleuth—often someone who runs a bed and breakfast, owns a cupcake bakery, works at a yarn shop… you get the picture. And, yes, it’s always hard to justify why a perfectly sane small business owner would want to investigate a murder. In real life, you’d tell the cops what you knew and that would be that.

    As for Mrs. Abernathy, it’s funny: I honestly had SO MUCH FUN writing her. And a lot of readers have found her to be really funny. But I have also heard feedback from some people that they just found her to be too much, so you’re not alone! I’m sorry she ruined the experience for you.

    All that said, I appreciate the thoughtful feedback. It’s helpful to hear what works for people and what doesn’t. And I’m sorry your cozy mystery experiment didn’t pan out, but I appreciate you giving it a try!

    Happy reading!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much for stopping by, Ms. Cooper! Your comments are very helpful to me. I was thinking the other day about whether not I HAD read any other cozy mysteries, and I think I sort of (???) have! Monica Nolan’s lesbian career girls novels all have amateur sleuths solving mysteries! I’ve read two of them. Would you like to partake in an author feature on site to talk more about the book?


  6. I don’t really read cozy mysteries, although I’ve read a few on the gentler side – M.C. Beaton’s Hamish MacBeth series is a good one. I tend to prefer darker, more psychological mysteries – Ruth Rendell is my favorite British mystery writer, and Michael Connelly is my fave American crime writer. I don’t like too much gore or misogyny, though. it’s a fine line! This one sounded like it had some fun parts, though, which is nice. I like how you found some positives in your review!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve read quite a few cosy mysteries and yes, it is quite “unreal” that the person investigating the murder is a quilt shop owner or bookstore proprietor or sewing teacher … but that’s what happens. And they get all sucked into dealing with it and the police are usually rubbish and/or don’t want them involved. There’s usually humour and there’s often a really larger-than-life villain around. But you need to read a few to pick up on that. This is why I don’t get whodunnit in the Icelandic crime series I’m reading, because they’re police procedural and I don’t get that genre as I don’t read it much at all.

    Fair play to the author for reaching out to you and I’m glad she was able to take part in your Meet the Author interview!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m a little bit in love with the title of this one. It’s kind of kitschy-wonderful, and it does indeed sound like a cosy mystery. Like you, I haven’t read a lot of them, and I’m not a huge fan of ‘funny’ crime novels (I generally like my thrillers dark and brooding). That said, years ago I read Scarlett Thomas’ Lily Pascale mysteries. They’re cosy and funny and I’d highly recommend them. I like the premise of Terror in Taffeta, but I think I’d also find Kelsey’s motives for taking on the case a bit thin.

    Liked by 1 person

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