Saturday, April 2, 2016
Review: Dressed for Death by Julianna Deering
Dressed for Death (A Drew Farthering Mystery #4)
By: Julianna Deering
Publisher: Bethany House
Married six blissful -- and mercifully murder-free -- months, Drew and Madeline have the luxury of indulging in a little match-making, hoping Nick and Madeline's long-time friend Carrie will finally realize the potential of their long-simmering attraction. The perfect setting to foster a bit of romance is a week-long Regency house party at Winteroak, the family home of Drew's old school pal Tal Cummins. Though he's loathe to dress as Mr. Darcy for a week, Drew is happy for the chance to please his bride and introduce her to the scene of so many of treasured memories of his youth, having always considered Tal and his parents a second family. Joined by Carrie's younger brother Will as an overly enthusiastic chaperone, a well-intentioned roadblock to their matchmaking efforts for Nick, Drew and Madeline throw themselves into the week-long affair of Regency clothes, food, and -- to the horror of all men attending the party -- dancing lessons.
But in spite of the fanciful trappings of the wholly immersive, historically-themed party, it becomes quickly obvious to Drew that all is not well in his old friend Tal's life. His fiancee, Alice, is wary and fearful, hiding secrets she is loathe to reveal. Alice becomes increasingly erratic, until on the night of the ball her simmering fear erupts, resulting in her collapse and death. To Drew's horror, he recognizes her behavior as symptomatic of cocaine use, an overdose of the lethal drug resulting in her death.
In a shocking twist, Tal's father is arrested as the source of the cocaine that killed Alice, revealed as the subject of a long-term, covert police investigation into drug smuggling, shattering Tal and rocking Drew's once stable belief in everything he thought he knew to be true. For if he could so misjudge the man he viewed as a second father, how can he ever hope to ascertain right from wrong, to discover the truth behind the cases he increasingly cannot seem to avoid?
Drew and company agree to stay at Winteroak to help Tal and his mother through the immediate aftermath of the arrest and investigation, little suspecting that a far deeper danger lurks in their midst. Though Tal's father remains imprisoned -- and maintains his innocence in Alice's death -- he refuses to give up the workings of his smuggling operation. As Drew investigates, other, less-seasoned "detectives" like Will attempt to help -- and when Will is brutally murdered, Drew is faced with a choice -- to continue fighting for truth and risk all whom he holds dear, or give up his investigative calling as a failed endeavor.
With each successive installment of the Drew Farthering mysteries, Julianna Deering gets better, proving over and over her facility for the tropes of golden age mystery-style storytelling in the vein of masters like Christie and Sayers. This is Drew's most engaging, thrilling adventure yet, sure to leave readers eager for the next installment which -- if it follows the pattern of its predecessors -- is sure to provide even more thrills. I absolutely ADORE the Regency house party set up of this installment. It's a unique and colorful premise which allows Deering to blend two of British inspiration's most enduring literary themes -- the murder mystery colored with an Jane Austen-esque sensibility.
I've loved Nick, Drew's best friend and estate agent-in-training since his introduction in Rules of Murder, and it is a long-awaited delight to to his own romantic possibilities take center stage here, now that Drew and Madeline are at long-last wed. Not only does Deering begin to develop the promise of the sparks that flew between Nick and Carrie when they first met three books ago, but she uses Nick's budding romance as a springboard for touching on issues of class and social position (similar to how the character of Branson was incorporated into the Crawley family on Downton Abbey). Drew has never treated Nick as anything less than a brother, but given the time period and the social mores associated with Drew's position, its interesting to see Nick grapple with his hopes versus social expectations.
One of the aspects I most appreciate about Deering's period mysteries is her fearless willingness to take on darker subjects like marital affairs and here, drug use and its ramifications, all while blending in a thread of faith that realistically shines a light of hope and redemption in one's darkest hours. Drew is a believer, yes, but faith is never an easy cure-all fix for the problems he encounters in his investigations. In less skilled hands Drew's struggles to reconcile the fallen world he lives in with his faith would result in pat answers -- but here, Deering explores a faith that is big enough to handle the tough questions, to help those grappling with the devastating affects of sin, violence, and addiction in such a way that never denies the often overwhelming sense of hopelessness such events can foster, if left unchecked..
In previous reviews I've mentioned some frustration with Madeline's character, but post-marriage she possesses more of the flavor of a spunky, Myrna Loy-esque sleuth I'd always hoped she'd be. Here, she is far more confident, more of an equal partner in her husband's investigative efforts. And joined by Nick and Carrie, the result is an unstoppable crime-solving quartet. I loved seeing both Madeline and Carrie more involved in the resolution of this mystery, and while they are in peril -- they are never damsels in distress. Deering has a knack for crafting characters that are fully-fleshed, relatable, and best of all, wholly of the time in which they lived, true to the manners and expectations of their social sphere.
Dressed for Death is the most ambitious and enjoyable Drew Farthering mystery yet. It possesses all of the trademarks I've come to appreciate in Deering's fiction -- well-crafted characters, in-depth relational arcs, and enough red herrings and plot twists to keep one's head spinning. I absolutely love the fact that the series has followed Drew into marriage -- where most novels (or series) may stop at the wedding, Deering proves that there are plenty of sparks and room for adventure post-wedding. This series continues to shine with each successive release, a continued welcome addition to the cozy period mystery genre. Sparkling with wit, warmth, and style, Dressed for Death is an unmissable treat for fans of all things mysterious and British. I can't wait for Drew's next book!
About the book:
A Regency-era costume party should have been an amusing diversion, but it seems wherever Drew Farthering goes, mystery -- and murder -- are on the guest list.
Drew and Madeline Farthering arrive at a Regency-era house party at Winteroak House, excited to be reunited with old friends, including Drew's former Oxford classmate Talbot Cummins. Tal is there with his fiancee, Alice Henley, and though many present seem worried about the couple, nobody is prepared when Alice dies from an apparent overdose. Tal refuses to believe she'd taken the drug inentionally, and a dark question arises of whether the death is an accident or murder.
The police have their own information, though, and Drew is shocked when they arrest someone he's trusted since childhood -- someone who's been smuggling drugs into the country for years. Stunned by what has happened, Tal begs Drew to get to the bottom of everything, but Drew has never felt more unsettled. Questioning his own ability to see people as they really are, Drew doesn't know whom to trust, and he's not ready for the secrets he's about to uncover -- or the danger he'll bring down on everyone he holds dear.