Book Review: Death By The Book

Death By The Book, by Julianna Deering

[Note: This novel was provided free of charge by Bethany Books in exchange for an honest review.]

This particular book is the second volume of an ongoing Christian detective series set in Great Depression-era England (I have not read the first volume), and it manages to provide a thoughtful examination of faith and honorable conduct (both in terms of chastity in the midst of considerable temptation as well as graciousness and mercy towards human frailty that serves as an important part of characterization and plot) besides the normal intellectual thrills of a well-written and thoughtful historical mystery novel. Since this series of novels (the Drew Farthering Mystery series) is somewhat unfamiliar, I will seek to explain at least some of the elements of it that make it striking and intriguing and unusual within the general field of mystery novels, given that it is immensely literate and somewhat self-referential to the novels of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers and other novels of that kind (and the plot and its successful resolution heavily involve the knowledge of literary references, particularly Shakespeare).

To begin with, this novel is warm and appealing both for its romantic comedy elements as well as its mystery elements. The hero of the story is Drew Farthering, who lives in the eponymous village of Farthering St. John, who appears to most people as a gallant and cultured and somewhat guileless British aristocrat (and book-lover) in love with an unconsciously flirtatious and very independent-minded American girl who refuses to accept his repeated marriage proposals but also refuses to listen to her somewhat domineering aunt (who raised her) who tries to get her to leave England settle down with a nice American boy. In reality, though, Drew is the illegitimate son of the previous local aristocrat who was raised by his stepmother and his father, which is an awkward circumstance to say the least [1]. Nevertheless, his own experience of grace and human frailty gives him a rich perspective and a friendliness to outsiders that makes him a warm and decent figure, and that decency makes this a a very warm and humane novel, despite the fact that it includes a lot of murders and a great deal of work spent in solving the mystery.

Key to the mystery, and its solution, is the thorny issue of reputation. A series of murders is related by hairpins as well as enigmatic notes left on the bodies, but the motive and connection and the murderer remains elusive. Like most murder mysteries, this particular one includes clues and the usual misdirection, and a lot of false trails and false suspects, leading closer and closer to the detective himself, who must solve the murder mystery to save his own life, and whose general Christian decency, whether that is chaste but flirtatious banter with his beloved Madeline Parker or in his loyal friendships with as many people as possible (for Drew is the sort of person who would wish to be friendly with everyone if possible), or the way in which his gallantry and insatiable curiosity makes him unable to avoid putting himself in harm’s way. As a result, this novel is both well-plotted and extremely easy to read (coming in at a very smooth 300 pages), and the bounds of Christian propriety and mercy are followed in an honorable (if not perfect way) even as the conventions of romantic comedy (with its barriers and ultimate success) as well as detective stories are followed as well. If you like a good Christian romantic murder mystery, this novel is definitely an enjoyable one.

[1] It is, however, the same exact situation as my great-grandfather grew up in, as the illegitimate son of his father and some lovely young lady who was raised by his father and his father’s wife. Additionally, one of my great-grandmothers was an illegitimate child doted on by her foster-father but deeply loathed by his wife and children, who cut her out of the family when he died, leaving her to marry a wounded and broken World War I veteran.

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17 Responses to Book Review: Death By The Book

  1. We’ve delved more deeply into your great-grandmother’s origins and found–surprisingly–that her parents were married after all, and that other children were produced from that union. It appears that the abject poverty of turn-of-the-century lower class families led to fracturing; the mothers often hiring themselves out as scullery maids (or worse); the fathers chasing menial jobs wherever they could be found. Children were often left–as your great-grandmother originally was–with the grandparents. Your great-grandmother was left with her mother’s mother who was either incapable or unwilling to raise her and turned her over to become a ward of the court–and subsequently fostered by the Grey family (She was given the surname and thought she had been adopted until the mother died–and then learned that she had no claim to any inheritance.) It is very odd that her birth certificate listed her father’s name but not her mother’s, even though they were married. It leaves one to wonder whether the issue of natural versus legal paternity existed in this case. The omission certainly invites the element of shame, which would also explain her grandparents’ disavowal.

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  13. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I recently read Death at Thorburn Hall. I enjoyed it, but I wondered if the previous books in the series were worth reading. Your reviews suggest that they are (or those two that you reviewed are).

    • I would have liked to have read more the series as well, but until I started requesting them via ebooks I would commonly miss out on getting a hard copy, and the books in this series have never been available in my local library, at least not yet. In general, though, if you like historical mysteries with a strong degree of interest in divine providence, this series is definitely well worth reading.

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