Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Book Review: DEATH BY THE BOOK

Title: Death by the Book
Author: Julianna Deering
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Pages: 317










Death by the Book by Julianna Deering reminds us of the best traditions of Agatha Christie, the grande dame of murder mystery fiction herself.

Drew Farthering, a young heir to a fortune, loves reading murder mysteries, and is not averse to attempting to solve one himself. He is in love with Madeline Parker, an American, who, I gather, came over to stay with her Uncle Mason, in the previous book in the series. Uncle Mason, who was murdered in that book, was also the step-father of Drew.

In this book, Drew’s solicitor, Quinton Montford, is found dead with a cryptic note pinned to his chest, using a hatpin. The note is an allusion to the dead man’s profession Next, a doctor at the golf club is found dead with another hatpinned note on his chest. Deciphering the cryptic notes and tracing them to Shakespeare is a challenge that Drew enjoys tackling. Clearly, the killer is a Shakespeare enthusiast.

Later, Drew’s friend Roger is picked up as the suspect in the murder of Clarice, a bohemian girl he loved. This one too carries the killer’s signature style. Drew must find the murderer if he is to save his guiltless friend from being punished.

Drew, asked to keep his eyes and ears open in an unofficial capacity by Inspector Birdsong, spends his time hunting up clues. In this effort, he receives able assistance from friends Nick and Madeline. However, while Nick often accompanies Drew, Madeline is just a sounding board for his flashes of insight.

Before long, another body is found. By this time, it becomes evident that the bodies are showing up closer to home, and that the killer is edging ever so closer towards Drew or someone dear to him.

While everyone has a motive for at least one of the murders, no one has a motive for all. Nor do most people have an alibi for all the murders, leaving the field open for us in terms of the person to suspect.

While the novel reminds one of the best traditions of Agatha Christie, in that the killer turns out to be the one person you haven’t found guilty in your head, here the pace is far more laidback, with the romance taking up far too much time. Even when the bodies begin to pile up, you do not feel any sense of alarm or fear for the characters.

As a heroine, Madeline is ahead of her times. She admits to loving the “look, sound, touch, taste and smell of him (Drew),” a man who “always smelled like freshly laundered linen, new books, tea and honey.”

The dialogue is often witty and lively, especially that between Drew and Inspector Birdsong and between Drew and Madeline’s Aunt Ruth. There is a charming air of repartee that flows with neither willing to concede the last word to the other.

The beauty of Christian fiction is its ability to direct our attention to God and His indefatigable mercy in the face of the obstacles and challenges we face, as also our many failings, errors and hypocrisies. In Death by the Book, Christian elements such as the power of forgiveness, of no one being beyond the reach or need of God’s mercy, of the need to refrain from judging another unjustly or even harshly are scattered throughout this book. 


Drew is a devout Christian, and his interactions with the characters he encounters are imbued with his realisation that we are all guilty and that we all need His unfailing grace and mercy. Never have I read a murder mystery where the essence of Christ’s teaching was brought out so beautifully.

But of course, as far as pure murder mysteries go, there is still a flavour that is wanting. The killer’s motive for killing no less than four people is far from convincing. Also, while the notes pinned to the victims’ chests provide much food for thought, they are not strictly related to the killer’s motive, but only serve to exercise Drew’s mental faculties. A sort of elaborate game, if you will.

All said and done, I’d still recommend this one for being such a fun read. Who would have thought a murder mystery could be clean?





(I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. I read it on Netgalley.)





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