If you’re a fan of old-time whodunit mysteries, you may want to check out this new series by Julianna Deering. RULES OF MURDER is the first book in the Drew Farthering series, and has been labeled as Agatha Christie meets “Downton Abbey.”
It’s the early 1930s in England, and Drew Farthering is in line to inherit Farthering Place, his family’s impressive estate. Drew and his best friend, Nick --- whose father works as the family’s butler --- arrive at the home to find that their normal rooms are occupied by guests who are in town for a long weekend. The guest staying in Drew’s room is David Lincoln, a man who, rumor has it, is having an affair with Drew’s (much older) mother. Drew initially flies off the handle, but his stepfather Mason assures him that the rumors are not true. Drew is not convinced, but is glad when Mr. Lincoln agrees to move to another guest room for the remainder of his stay.
The next morning, three American girls show up on his doorstep, and Drew learns that one of them is Mason’s niece. The attraction between Drew and Madeline is instant and undeniable. At a large party hosted by his mother and stepfather, Drew rescues Madeline from Mr. Lincoln’s unwelcome advances. Drew then asks Madeline to take a stroll around the grounds as they wait for the fireworks display to begin. Right after the fireworks end, it starts to rain, so Drew and Madeline find cover in the greenhouse. But they find more than shelter --- they also discover David Lincoln’s dead body.
"The romance between Drew and Madeline is delightful, their banter playful and amusing. I also loved the relationship between Drew and Nick, which consisted of witty barbs and genuine brotherly affection."
An investigation follows, and it isn’t long before someone else turns up dead. The body count only rises from there, and it’s obvious the murders are all connected. Drew, Nick and Madeline are drawn into the mystery, working as a trio of amateur detectives to solve the crimes and uncover a killer.
As mentioned above, RULES OF MURDER is an old-fashioned murder mystery, similar in style to Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, even Dick Tracy. However, Drew is no professional detective, no matter how many mystery novels he has read. From the dialogue to the setting, readers are transported directly into the classic 1930s era.
For me, the best part about this novel is the dialogue and character connection. The romance between Drew and Madeline is delightful, their banter playful and amusing. I also loved the relationship between Drew and Nick, which consisted of witty barbs and genuine brotherly affection. If anything is lacking, it may be deep emotion, especially noticeable when a very familiar family member of Drew’s dies. Even though he didn’t have a close relationship with this relative, there was no sense of grief at all, which I found a little unrealistic. Yet it’s sort of understandable in order to keep the story moving along at an even pace.
There are many characters --- and dead bodies --- to keep track of, and at times I had to take a moment to remember who was who, but the plot certainly held plenty of twists and surprises. According to the author note at the end of the book, RULES OF MURDER is a satirical effort to break the “10 Commandments for Mystery Writers,” as set forth by English priest and mystery author Ronald Arbuthnott Knox in 1929. There are several references to these rules, which is where the title comes into play. Knowing this fact beforehand allows readers to appreciate how cleverly the story was put together.
Though not in-your-face, the religious element is present throughout. Drew struggles with his faith, and Madeline plants bits of seed that eventually take root in his heart. The ending satisfies, both in plot and character development, and the door is definitely left open for the continuing romance to blossom between Drew and Madeline.
RULES OF MURDER is a highly enjoyable first installment in the Drew Farthering mystery series. The second book, DEATH BY THE BOOK, comes out in March 2014.
Reviewed by Lynda Lee Schab on November 20, 2013