Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering – A Review

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?”

“It is.”

“Go on.”

“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.

Published in: on August 15, 2013 at 5:46 pm  Comments Off on Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering – A Review  
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Fantasy Friday – Bethany House Adds Another Fantasy Author

Bethany House is one of the more interesting Christian publishing houses when it comes to speculative fiction. First, they contracted Karen Hancock for her science fantasy Arena, which, by the way, they’ve just re-released with a new cover. That novel went on to win a Christy Award, as did Karen’s next three titles–the opening trilogy of her four-book The Guardian King series.

You’d think Bethany would be ecstatic as slowly fantasy fans learned of Karen and the availability of actual, well-written Christian fantasy. I have no way of knowing what their reaction was, but apparently ecstatic would be a stretch because they went the next ten years without another speculative author.

Karen continues to publish with them. After she completed The Guardian King series with Return of the Guardian King, she went on to publish another science fantasy entitled The Enclave and is currently working on a similar type of book. But other speculative authors? Apparently Bethany was happy to stand pat. They had the speculative genre covered.

At long last, however, the publishing house that first opened the door to Christian fantasy has brought in a handful of other authors. First was Anne Elisabeth Stengl, and she just happened to win back-to-back Christy Awards. Apparently Bethany has an eye for quality!

Now they have also included R. J. Larson, who writes what might be considered Biblical fantasy, and Patrick W. Carr, whose first novel, A Cast of Stones, begins The Staff & The Sword series–good old fashion, unadorned, regular Christian fantasy.

Larson’s debut novel Prophet released April 1 this year, and as it happens, Bethany House has a one-day promotional ebook give-away coming up on August 14. The second in the series, Judge, is due to release in November.

Carr’s A Cast of Stones is due out in February 2013. For Bethany House, this feels almost like an explosion of fantasy!

I’m happy about a couple things: first, the obvious–they are expanding the number of titles. But I’m also happy that they seem to be diversifying somewhat so that not every fantasy is like the others. Stengl’s books, beginning with Heartless (also part of the promotional package and available free as an ebook on August 24), and continuing with Veiled Rose, Moonblood, and Starflower, due to release in November also, are fairytale fantasy, which is quite different from Hancock, certainly, and from Larson’s Biblical fantasy or Carr’s epic fantasy. In addition, as I noted earlier, apparently Bethany is paying attention to quality–something I’ve felt is essential if fantasy is to grow as a genre in Christian publishing.

So, good on you, Bethany! I’m happy this publisher is joining Zondervan, WaterBrook/Multnomah, and Thomas Nelson as well as the smaller houses like AMG and Marcher Lord Press to put out more Christian fantasy.

CFBA Tour – Nothing To Hide By J. Mark Bertrand

Nothing To Hide (Bethany House Publishing) is a Roland March mystery by Mark Bertrand, a writer I got to know at the Faith In Fiction forum years ago. I later had the privilege of meeting him in person at an ACFW conference.

Besides his Roland March mysteries, he co-authored a mystery romance with Deeanne Gist and has written a non-fiction book on Christian worldview. As you might guess, the man is a real talent.

All this to say, when I get an opportunity to read and talk about his work, I’m eager to do so.

The problem is, my copy of Nothing To Hide only arrived last Thursday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t drop everything else and read through, much as I would have loved to. Being a notoriously slow reader, I have only reached the critical set up point during the few hours I’ve been able to settle in with the book.

So rather than a review, I’m offering first impressions. The first is my typical reaction when I crack a book and discover first person, present tense writing–a silent groan.

It’s not my favorite. I’ve tried to figure out why, and the main things that come to mind are moot points if the technique is executed well (see review for Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes).

Clearly, Mark is a skilled writer, and until I sat down to write this post, I hadn’t thought about the point of view or tense since I first started the book.

The plot revolves around a fairly gruesome murder–Roland March is a homicide detective, after all–so there was a little CSI feel to the story at the beginning. I think many readers will be attracted to this aspect, and it wasn’t a negative for me since I wasn’t actually seeing all grisly parts. (Yes, parts!)

The character continues to intrigue me. I’ve seen growth over the first two books, and he isn’t the same despairing, insecure person he was in the first two volumes. He’s still troubled, still trying to make life work, but I like him better so far, respect him more.

Mark’s writing is stellar. There are no hiccups, nothing that pulls me from the story. The scenes are painted well without laboring over needless detail, the characters all seem to be living, breathing people with their own issues.

All in all, this is a satisfying beginning. I’m glad to get back to it again when I must put it down.

If you’d like to read an actual review, check out my friend Nicole‘s article (she is also a former FIF’er) or the excellent one by Linda. I admit, I had to skim their summary of the story because I didn’t want to know anything ahead of time, but their comments about the book are thoughtful.

Better yet, get a copy of the book and find out for yourself what a good storyteller Mark is.

Published in: on July 3, 2012 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on CFBA Tour – Nothing To Hide By J. Mark Bertrand  
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