Drew Farthering is no Lord Peter Wimsey (a literary giant he openly pays respectful homage to); nevertheless, the mystery centered in and around the stately Farthering mansion and nearby little British village will keep readers occupied with satisfying twists and various hat-tips to the detective genre itself (one of Ms. Deering’s admitted purposes in writing the book was to break all the classic “rules” and cliches for the murder mystery).
Some of the clues contain that exquisite element of letting you read them, forget them, then instantly remember them as soon as their meaning is revealed. Others are more obscure – sketchy references to clues that the characters seize on as proof without spelling out the full details to the reader. And some things are simply members of the teeming school of herring that flip their coppery tails in tantalizing mockery as they swim past, obscuring sight of the truth with their shiny scales.
I thought I had spotted the central lynchpin of the plot before anyone had even died. Thus, I followed Drew and his friends with self-satisfied amusement until he “discovered” it at the midpoint. More fool me. Unknown to both of us, the true character of the matter was a different side altogether, which kept us twisting and turning as the death toll slowly climbed. When the culprit was finally revealed, I understood the meaning behind it, even though it felt as though “Detective Drew” was operating more from flashes of inspiration than mental elbow grease, as it were.
The romance that threads through the book is affectedly “sweet”, with profuse little kisses and coy eye flutters. Please note: I tend to approach romance with a hefty grain of salt. Built on the characters’ step-cousin relationship and instant attraction-affection, Rules of Murder‘s romance tends to dwell on dreamy eyes and the insta-trust of mutual attraction – lacking the intellectual rigor and depth that was shared in the (admittedly older) protagonists of Sayers’ Gaudy Night.
However, the couple shows more common sense dealing with the emotions than many, questioning whether what they’re feeling will really last and whether it’s reasonable to trust one another. With wisdom and religious feeling (if not religion, to start with), they refrain from anything untoward. However, this element felt like the religious conversion aspect – unnecessary.
Not that the religious element is disrespectful or sensational, but it felt more superficial in relation to the rest of the story as a whole than some other elements. Perhaps there was a sense of the author striving to include a religious struggle within the characters, while the protagonist resisted religion for no more profound reason than spiritual apathy.
All in all, the story was a fun read that kept me moving through it. Secrets and startling revelations kept the characters (and reader) flipping and returning like corkscrews. The disparate threads of intrigue gathered satisfyingly together at the end, and the emotional/spiritual angles concluded in a decently resolving manner (while leaving room for further additions to the series). There probably weren’t enough suspects for it to rival Agatha Christie, and the mannerisms of Dorothy Sayers’ nobles, servants, and villagers are second to no one. Nevertheless, Rules of Murder does well telling its own bewildering story, while emanating allusions to the great age of murder mysteries.
Note: This ebook file contains Digital Rights Management (DRM) software. Although intended to protect authors’ intellectual property, it frustrated me as I tried to conveniently read this book. To read a fuller discussion of DRM and how it hurts readers, check out Calibre’s page explaining DRM.