Monday, April 14, 2014

"Death by the Book" by Julianna Deering - a clean, tantalyzing mystery, told in the classic style

Death by the BookIn her second Drew Farthering mystery, Julianna Deering's amateur sleuth happens upon the dead body of his solicitor, bludgeoned in the back of the head and stabbed with an antique hatpin, pinning the cryptic message "Advice to Jack," written in elegant Elizabethan script, to his chest.  Thus commences the Hatpin Murders, a series of murders that keeps moving closer and closer to home.  In between his dealings with death, Drew is busy trying to win the heart of the watchful Aunt Ruth Janson, with whose approval he can perhaps acquire the hand of her lovely niece Madeline in marriage.

Set in England in the early 1930's, around the same time as many of the classic cozy mysteries and whodunits were written, this story follows a similar pattern.  Citing many references to classic literature - including classic detective fiction - the novel was fun to read and puzzle out the references. 

I figured it out!  After the author meticulously killed off or exonerated my initial suspects (so not until the last fifty or so pages of the book), the clues came together and I did pinpoint the murderer.  It is a well-written mystery; Deering cleverly inserts hints throughout the story, but it takes rumination to sift through the red herrings to find the important clues.  Mysteries are no fun when the answer is pure guesswork, and this is a good one - the clues are not obvious, but they are there! 

While there is not much for preaching in the book, it is clear that Drew is trying to live by his Christian principles, both in his romance with Madeline (trying to avoid temptation when they live so close together) and with anyone else he meets, even when they try to provoke him.  The author brings up the point that good Christian men stumble, and Drew's anguished response is one that comes to mind every time another scandal comes out in the church or a ministry: "The world was always waiting to exult over the failings of anyone who claimed the name of Christ.  Did every man who tried to live his principles have to have a dirty little secret?  Must he absolutely be a fraud?  Surely there were good men in the world, men who weren't perfect but who meant to be honest and true to their faith" (54).  Later on, when discussing what sort of God is followed by so many failures and hypocrites, the author points out what so often mystifies the world: that God is merciful, and if any of us were judged as we deserved, there would be no one left to follow Him. 

Like the first book of the series, this one reminded me of Dorothy Sayers' mysteries, but with a strong Christian influence.  Though humorous, it does not deal with wrongdoing in a flippant manner.  I really liked the climax and the end; I think the author found a brilliant and meaningful solution to conclude the story.  A fun, clean read - 5 out of 5 stars!

Thank you Bethany House for a free copy for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive and all opinions are my own.

Drew Farthering Mysteries
1. Rules of Murder
2. Death by the Book
3. Murder at the Mikado
4. Dressed for Death 
5. Murder on the Moor
6. Death at Thorburn Hall (Oct 2017)

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