Rules of Murder
Every once in a while an author will flip a switch and turn on a specific part of my imagination. The language and scene settings in this novel flipped me to movies like The Thin Man and Sunset Boulevard. I “pictured” the novel in black and white and could see the characters in their glittering dresses and stiff tuxedos delivering their lines in the quick staccato of the time.
Drew Farthering returns home to find a party underway without him. This is no great surprise because while technically Farthering Place belongs to him, his mother and step-father tend to be the primary residents and they often entertain. What is a surprise is to find David Lincoln, a man whom Drew despises due to his unsavory reputation, in residence in his room. In spite of the late hour and embarrassment caused to his family, Drew has Lincoln relocated and reclaims his own bed.
The next surprise he receives is far more pleasant. Madeline Parker, his step-father’s niece, has arrived from America with a group of friends to enjoy all the pleasures of the English countryside. Drew plans to prove to her there is no greater pleasure than spending time with him. That evening at the party he lures Madeline to the garden in hopes a moonlit stroll will prove to be the start of a budding romance. Everything looks promising until a downpour forces the laughing couple to take refuge in the greenhouse, where they come face to face with David Lincoln’s dead body.
The police are called and begin their investigation only to discover that the evening has turned even more macabre: Drew’s mother has died, though whether it is suicide or murder is difficult to determine. As the investigation reveals more and more secrets and brings to light things people would much rather have stay in the dark, Drew finds himself drawn deeper into the confusing circle of events. He determines to solve the mystery before it destroys his family’s company, reputation, and Farthering Place itself.
This fanciful fable combines wit, cheer and romance with the dark business of murder. Drew juggles love, mystery, and kittens being born on a favorite pair of trousers with unfailing smiling affability. Even when his mother dies and the world around him seems to be going to chaos we rarely see him become too deeply contemplative or take life very seriously. He bounces back from any problem with surprising good spirits and tenacity. This didn’t surprise me as this is a staple of what I think of as the highbrow, glittering detective novel. A hero who is handsome and charming and indefatigable is a must.
If the handsome charming hero is a must so is the captivating heroine. Madeline is the perfect counterpart to Drew’s glamour. She is also witty and charming, with a bit more moral fortitude and substance thrown in for good measure. She definitely takes what is happening a bit more seriously and takes a bit longer to bounce back from the bad experiences than Drew. But bounce back she does. The one way she wavers from being the typical detective’s partner is by having a strong faith. While she never preaches she does drop gracious hints throughout the text that serve as a counter point to Drew’s utter indifference to religion. Since this is an Inspirational, her words of wisdom eventually find fertile soil in Drew’s soul. This is, however, far from a large part of the tale and is done subtly enough that it never interferes with the flow of the story.
Since the novel takes place over the course of a little less than two weeks, the relationship between the two is promising rather than fulfilled. Love is spoken of but it is also acknowledged that it is far too soon in the relationship – and there has been far too much happening – for there to be any surety in that love. This actually made a refreshing change of pace from many romantic suspense books where the HEA often feels tacked on just to fill requirements. I liked that the characters were left with Happy Right Now with hope for tomorrow. I am sure future books will see the relationship through to a conclusion, so I was satisfied with where we left it.
The title for this book is actually a play on Father Knox’s Decalogue: The Ten Rules of (Golden Age) Detective Fiction. These rules appeared in the preface to Best Detective Stories of 1928-29, which Knox edited. It is believed that he was mostly joking and this novel certainly enjoys partaking in that fun. The book breaks and follows the rules in a whimsical manner, turning stereotypes on their heads while cheerfully chasing down the killer. I did have some questions about whether the novel was accurate in its depiction of forensics of the time but I never stopped reading to research. In my case, it didn’t yank me out of the story enough to be a problem.
The fun, playful depiction of a bygone era definitely worked for this reader. If you are one who doesn’t like the slightest humor or lightheartedness in their crime fiction, this book is assuredly not for you. On the other hand, if you love a good cozy and think that books like the Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy Sayers are far too hard to come by, I am happy to recommend this story.