by Julianna Deering
First off, SO sorry it’s been so long. Life has been quite busy and full of a couple of big changes (one very good, one very bad, and both very time-consuming), and I just haven’t had the blogging time I’ve yearned for, which is a shame because I have so much to share! To start, a book from Bethany House that was provided to me for free from the publisher in exchanged for my unbiased review –
Last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing the first book in the Drew Farthering series, Rules of Murder. This year, Deering published its sequel. So I pulled Rules of Murder off my shelf and read them both, back-to-back. If you’ll recall, I enjoyed Rules of Murder just fine, but it didn’t really engage me emotionally. Unfortunately, I had very similar feelings about Death by the Book.
This second installment picks up pretty shortly after the first ended. Drew, Madeline, and Nick are trying to settle back into regular life. Drew is still convinced that Madeline is the girl for him (since he’s known her about a month now) and Madeline is still a bit uncertain. Madeline is an orphan, and an American. When her aunt (who raised her) arrives unexpectedly, the household is thrown into a bit of turmoil, since Aunt Ruth isn’t the easiest person to get along with. To top it off, people are showing up dead, with delicate hatpins stuck into their chests, mysterious messages attached.
I really, really wanted to like this book, but it just didn’t engage me. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I finished it to try and figure out why. I think that part of the problem is that the characters don’t feel very realistic. I’ve also been reading through Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series (more cozy mysteries). From the very beginning, Daisy and Alec are very real people, and I think that it’s because they do things. When I’m not reading about their adventures, it’s easy to picture them tooling about, living life – Daisy doing research and writing articles, Alec solving mysteries at the Scotland Yard, getting together for dinner whenever they can.
But Drew, especially, doesn’t do anything. He’s rich and leisurely. He has no employment, and doesn’t even seem to have any hobbies. When he’s not doing something on the pages of the book, I have no idea what he is doing, you know? It’s more like a play, and when he isn’t out on the stage, I figure he must just be sitting about behind the scenes, waiting for his next line. He doesn’t feel like a real person, and the same goes for Madeline and Nick, who appear and give their lines, and then exit, stage left. Nick at least has some employment, so I figure he’s off to do some estate managing, but apparently Madeline and her aunt hang around a small cottage all day doing ???? and Drew meanders about the countryside, waiting for murders to happen.
His detecting position is also ambiguous. In the first book, it made at least a modicum of sense to have Drew doing some detecting, since the murders had occurred in his own home. But the Inspector was consistently irritated at his interference, and, in the end, it didn’t really feel as though Drew had been the one to make the brilliant deductions. Yet, for some reason, in this book the Inspector actually invites Drew along. And even though the Inspector says things like, “Let me ask the questions,” Drew always ends up asking the questions. It just feels awkward, because Drew really has no purpose.
And finally, just too many deaths for a true cozy mystery – traditionally, cozy mysteries kill off a minimum of people, and mostly kill people we don’t like anyway. Deering has no such compunctions, leaving us with a villain who feels far too ruthless for a cozy (rereading the first book, I realized it was very similar in this aspect).
I really don’t mean to just completely bash this book. The mystery itself was intriguing, and some of the dialogue fun. But overall, the whole thing felt very scripted and unnatural, leaving me with very mediocre feelings towards the story – a pretty solid 3/5.