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.
I think what you say about them not doing things is really important. If characters don’t have a life except when they’re on the page then they’re never going to feel real. We don’t need pages and pages of descriptions of what they get up to, but a hint about their hobbies or interests can make them much more interesting. We all know Miss Marple liked to garden and took part in all the church activities…
Yes, exactly. I wasn’t expecting an entire detailed biography, and I actually get really bogged down by narratives with *too* much detail (“She washed all the plates, and then the cups, followed by the silverware. She paused, pondering. ‘Why do I always wash the dishes in this order?’ She began to realize that her entire life was full of things she did in a specific order with no real reason why.”) I really think that it’s because Drew, the protagonist, doesn’t have a job or anything. He’s just this rich dude that sort of hangs about all the time, and so I have no context in which to relate him, so the whole thing just feels unrealistic.
I’ve realized, though, that I must be a really picky reader. For this particular publisher, I’m supposed to publish a review on my blog, and then on one retailer and on Goodreads or something similar, and both Amazon and Goodreads rated this book quite well, so maybe I just need to lighten up!
Being picky is a good thing – the last thing I want is to read screeds of reviews saying ‘Great read! Loved it!’ Tell me why! And tell me what you didn’t love too! I always want to know the things that annoyed other people so I can decide if they’d annoy me too. So if someone says ‘tons of graphic violence’ I know I’m unlikely to enjoy it, but if they say ‘I hated it because there was too much about the psychology of the characters and not enough action’ then I know that might work well for me. At the end of the day, I don’t much care whether a review is positive or negatve, so long as it’s informative. Which could be why my reviews seem to be getting longer and longer…and longer… ;)
haha, well, I’ve been guilty of some of those vague reviews as well! You always seem to do a really good job of telling about the book without spoiling it; I’ve been working on my book review style. I think part of the reason I’ve enjoyed taking on book blogging is because I haven’t had much opportunity to exercise my writing skills since I finished college, and I sort of miss the challenge.
I always seem to be way more coherent about books I dislike than books I like??! I’m not sure why that it is; other than with books I really love, I just find myself saying JUST GO READ IT YOU WILL NEVER REGRET IT I PROMISE; kinda like when I met my husband and people would ask what he was like and the best word I could find was “nice” – the truth was, there really weren’t any words. :-D
Hehe! Yes, I find the words flow more easily when I’m criticising too! But I also know that my ‘followers’ vastly prefer my rips to my praises – they always get more visits and comments. Go figure! My theory is they’re all so relieved not to be tempted to read it. I should really specialise in reading really bad books…I might be miserable, but I’d be popular… ;)