Murder at the Mikado
This is the third in the Drew Farthering mystery series, where we return to the glamorous world of the wealthy amateur sleuth and his beloved fiancé Madeline. They are only weeks away from wedded bliss but is there any chance that they can walk down the aisle before yet another mystery finds them? Probably not.
Drew couldn’t be happier as he counts down the days to the wedding. His company is once more in the black, the danger from the local who was harming the estate’s citizenry has ended, and his friends are starting to gather for his nuptials. For this particular evening he has a dinner party planned in honor of the man responsible for making his firm profitable once again. When he and Madeline glide down the steps to meet their guests they are bubbling over with excitement. What they find waiting for them dims their smiles.
It turns out his manager is married to a woman from Drew’s past. A former actress, Fleur had seduced Drew after he had seen one of her performances. He had ended the relationship when she told him she was married but the games she played while they were together left a lasting scar. He is astonished to see her in his foyer playing the part of charming and demure matron. After a meal heavy with undercurrents Drew tells Madeline the full story of this sordid event in his history and vows that in future all entertaining will be of the gentleman only and that at his club.
The issue would seem to be laid to rest until Fleur returns to Farthering Place seeking Drew’s help. It seems she is the prime suspect in the murder of a local actor, a man with whom she had had a long running affair. Initially Drew declines to get involved. He wants nothing to do with Fleur and he definitely doesn’t want her affecting his relationship with Madeline. But when Fleur’s husband pleads for his help, explaining that an inheritance and their son’s future might well be at stake, Drew reluctantly begins to check into the matter. Amid the pageantry and intrigue that is life in the theater he finds secrets that some people are anxious to keep hidden, even if they have to kill to do so.
The strength of these novels is definitely their ability to capture the glitz and glamour of the 1930s champagne crowd. The clothing, the cars, the adventures – but most notably the dialogue – are all pitch perfect. She always includes a reference to the art and literature of that time period and I especially enjoyed the Gilbert and Sullivan references this time around.
Another added bonus is that the books are easy to read. Ms. Deering has a descriptive style of writing which allows you to see everything as it occurs. The books feel like a written equivalent of the old black and white movies of the era.
I thought the characters were well done too. The author does a terrific job with Drew, who shows all the high handedness of his class while still managing to come across as a decent, relatable bloke. It is always interesting to watch how very at ease he is with his wealth and how little concern he takes with it. I think that is the hallmark of an era where the rich still weren’t aware that the lifestyle they lived wouldn’t always be so sustainable. Drew serves as a good reference for all that is good and bad in that aspect of the time.
The Theater folk were well captured also. Their drama, foibles, and the fact that it is hard to know just who is telling the truth when the people you are dealing with are such very excellent liars is all handled excellently. I especially enjoyed Fleur, who had a few extra layers to her femme fatale personality. The guessing game of which her was the real her was fun.
But with all those positives I had a few serious concerns with this novel that brought the overall grade down. The first of them is that the police come across as so incompetent. Most cozy mysteries manage to have the amateur sleuth solve the crime without making the police look bad by having the two work in conjunction. That partially happens here but Drew comes across as so much more intelligent than the local constabulary that they seem almost buffoons next to him. I found one scene involving a key piece of evidence especially annoying.
My biggest complaint though lies with Madeline. I am a strong fan of young heroines (being a big reader of young adult novels myself). However, I don’t enjoy heroines who are girly and vapid into their twenties and that is precisely what is going on here. Here is a quote from the book where our heroine does a bang up job of describing herself:
If Aunt Ruth wanted to berate her for being fickle and foolish, well, that would be all right. She wasfickle and she was foolish, but she was loved, so none of the rest mattered.
No, sorry being fickle and foolish isn’t alright, even if our hero loves you in spite of it. And honestly, for me, a hero loving an idiot heroine brings down the whole house of cards. It sheds a negative light on his character that he wants to marry someone who is “fickle and foolish” just because she is sweet and pretty. And if I can’t like the heroine and find myself disrespecting the hero for loving her, the whole romance is shot.
This book had some amazing strengths but it coupled them with some glaring weaknesses. Recommending it would be a tough call. I would say if you love that era and love the highbrow detective stories of the 1930s you will enjoy that portion of the book enough that it will make up for the negatives. For most other readers I think the problems will outweigh the pleasures.