Author Julianna Deering must be doing something right because her novel Rules of Murder (Bethany House), first in the Drew Farthering Mystery series and the current Christian Fiction Writers Alliance blog tour feature, garnered multiple Goodreads reviewer comparisons to Agatha Christy, Dorothy Sayers, and the TV writers behind the cozy mystery series Murder, She Wrote. Without a doubt, it appears fans of those writers comprise the audience for Rules of Murder.
I have to admit, as I read the story, I couldn’t help but think of Downtown Abbey as well as the mysteries of yesteryear. There was a distinct upstairs/downstairs element that I thought added to the charm and enjoyment of this novel.
The Story. Drew Farthering, a young English gentleman of the 1930s, comes home to more than he expects. His mother is holding a party and his stepfather has invited a number of the guests who are also business associates to stay over the weekend. After wrangling his room away from a man with a questionable reputation, Drew settles in to make the best of the situation.
If only circumstances had allowed such settling. Instead, first one body turns up, then another, and another, and another. Drew and those he’s gathered around him are intent to find the murderer, though the police inspector isn’t too keen on having a civilian tampering with evidence—that is, until Drew and his cohorts find a key something which the police missed.
Strengths. I love a good mystery and Rules of Murder qualifies. There were sufficient red herrings and unexpected events to keep the story from being predictable. The historical feel seemed wonderfully familiar. Ms. Deering successfully painted the setting without getting bogged down in details or slowing the story.
Besides the expected puzzle the story provided, I most enjoyed the varied character voices. The English gentlemen came off appropriately stuffy and impersonal for the time period. The American love interest sounded less formal and more relaxed. The servants altered between their clipped and somewhat stiff “at work” speech to the more expansive narrative of those comfortable in their own skin but not so comfortable in association with moneyed or authoritative people.
My favorite exchange, which goes on for several pages, is between the gardener, Mr. Peterson, and Inspector Birdsong. The protagonist, Drew, is present as well. Here’s part of the interrogation.
[Birdsong asked,] “Tell me what you did last Friday.”
“The whole day?” Peterson asked.
“The whole day.”
The gardener scratched the side of his head with one grimy fingernail. “I gets up round five, as I reckon it, and gets dressed. My old woman, she give me beans on toast fer breakfast and a bit of black pudding and tea. Then I does down to the shed fer my spade and such.”
“Is that the shed where you kept the shotgun?”
“About then I sets Mack and Bobby, my men, you see, I sets them on to weedin’ and that whilst I tends to the roses. Mrs. Parker, God rest her, sir, Mrs. Parker was that fond of her roses, and I liked to keep ‘em fer her. So I were mixing some top-class muckings from the stables into the soil round them, just to perk ‘em up like. Took me nigh unto noon to do ‘em all.”
“All right,”Birdsong said. “And did you see anything during that time?”
“I seen some of them has aphids.”
“I mean anything unusual,” Birdsong pressed.
“That is unusual for my roses.”
Drew bit his lip.
“Anything else?” the chief inspector asked.
“There’s moles or somethin’ digging round in the bed nearest the forest.”
I could go on—the entire scene is delightful—but that gives you a picture of the strong character voice Ms. Deering gives to her characters.
Weaknesses. Very little bothered me. I finished the book feeling as if I’d found a new friend because I truly love mysteries. This one was thoroughly satisfying. However, for the sake of a review, I thought over the story and came up with two specifics.
First, I thought our protagonist needed more emotional depth. He’s falling in love and facing tragedy, all at the same time. Yes, he is an aloof English gentleman, but I think he would have at least thought more deeply even if he didn’t allow himself to feel more deeply.
But that leads to the second. In response to the death around him, in what felt like inappropriate and unmotivated times, Drew had short musings about death. I would have rather he dealt with the issue or decided to avoid it all together, but this near-handling of it felt tepid to me. (And now, for some reason, I feel as if I must write in the lofty English style of the period. Whatever has come over me? )
Recommendation. Loved it. Really an enjoyable story, well-told. Anyone who has a soft spot for the mysteries of old, with the big reveal at the end which ties up all the loose ends, will be a fan of Rules of Murder. Anyone who appreciates historical settings and strong character voices will enjoy the writing. I enthusiastically recommend this one.