Four Stars -- Compelling, Page Turner
Just as Drew Farthering thinks he has reached smooth waters, Fleur Landis, an old flame, reappears in his life. She's married now, no longer an actress, and he expects she'll soon disappear--until she comes to him in dire need. The lead actor in her old troupe's production of The Mikado has been murdered, and Fleur is the police's number one suspect.
First-time readers of this series won’t have a hard time catching up as each book stands alone just fine. Old and new fans will enjoy the Agatha Christie-esque feel of the story which is brimming with intrigue, romantic angst and mystery.
Romantic Times, July 2014
I was never a fan of cozy mysteries before I started reading Julianna Deering’s series, but now I’m hooked! As I’ve said before, if Bertie Wooster and Jessica Fletcher had a love child, he would be Drew Farthering. Inside these stylish, Art Deco cover designs are wonderfully entertaining stories full of original characters, sparkling prose, and vivid detail of upper-class England in the 1930s.
"A Mrs. Mallowan to see you, sir."
Drew looked up at Dennison and chuckled softly. "Mrs. Mallowan or Mrs. Christie?"
Denny's face was as impassive as ever. "I was given the name Mallowan, sir. Shall I enquire again?"
"No, no, that's all right. Did she give you her card?"
"No, sir. Do you wish me to tell her you are not at home to visitors?"
"Nonsense," Drew said. "Send her in, if you would, please. I think I'm up for an adventure this morning."
"Very good , sir."
"But, uh, I say, Denny?"
"What does this Mrs. Mallowan look like? Anyone we know?"
"I couldn't say, sir. The lady is wearing a veil and seems rather determined to remain unknown."
Drew grinned. "Not Miss Parker in disguise, is it?"
"No, sir. Unless I am much mistaken."
"Well, that's too bad, I suppose. All right. Ah, please show her into the drawing room on second thought. I'll be right there. And ask Miss Parker if she would do me the favor of coming down, too, eh?"
Denny made a slight bow. "At once, sir."
He disappeared into the hallway, and Drew folded his newspaper. Agatha Christie's married name was Mallowan. So, unless it truly was the celebrated Mrs. Mallowan herself, surely someone was having him on. Well, that was all right. It was as much tradition to harry the groom-to-be as it was to fête the bride.
He swallowed down the last of his tea and then straightened his tie. "Whoever you are, dear Mrs. Mallowan, I hope to give you as good as you send."
The lady was sitting on the sofa when Drew came into the drawing room. She was tall and slender and, as Denny had said, draped in a heavy veil. And she was dressed all in black, as if she were in deep mourning. Drew's expression sobered. Best not treat this as a joke until he was certain it was one.
"Good morning," he said, making his voice pleasant but not too cheerful, just in case.
She extended one black-gloved hand. "Thank you for seeing me."
Her voice was a husky whisper, but he was certain he had heard it before.
"Mrs. . . . Mallowan?"
She nodded once. "Will you shut the door so we may speak in private?"
He inclined his head. "Forgive me, but I've asked my fiancée to join us. I hope you don't mind."
She made a petulant little huffing sound that he recognized at once.
She used both graceful hands to lift her veil just enough so she could peep out from under it. "Must she, Drew? I'd much prefer–"
"I do hope you'll pardon me, but, yes, she must. If you wish to speak to me, she absolutely must."
"Otherwise, I really have to bid you good morning."
She pouted and let the veil fall over her face again. "Can she at least be trusted to not let anyone know I've come to see you?"
"If that's necessary, I'm certain she can. Madeline is always very– "
"Always very what, darling?"
Madeline stood in the doorway, smiling and spring-fresh in a flowered frock and pink jumper, and Drew held out one hand to her.
"Come in, Madeline, and shut the door if you would."
She lifted one eyebrow, but did as she was asked and then came to stand at Drew's side.
"Won't you introduce us?" she asked.
Fleur put back her veil again and then discarded her hat altogether. "I'm sure you remember me, Miss Parker."
Madeline glanced at Drew, her expression suddenly cool. "Yes, Mrs. Landis, I do. Forgive me, but I wasn't expecting–"
"No, forgive me." Fleur's dark eyes were pleading and helpless. "Both of you, please, I really can't have anyone know I've come to you today. Will you promise not to say anything?"
Drew settled Madeline on the love seat and then sat next to her, putting her arm through his.
"Say anything?" he asked. "To whom?"
"To anyone. Please, Drew. I know we didn't part the best of friends back in Oxford."
She turned those eyes up to his, shining with unshed tears, and he remembered now why his eighteen-year-old self had been so easily smitten. He wouldn't again be such a fool.
His voice was coolly polite, and no one said anything for a moment. Madeline looked at him, her delicate eyebrows lifted just the slightest bit, and he turned again to their guest.
"I take it there's a reason you've come? Why go through the pretense of saying you were Mrs. Mallowan?"
"I know you like mystery novels, and I thought the name might pique your interest. I couldn't risk your not seeing me. I–" Fleur had a lace handkerchief crumpled in one hand, and now she touched it to her trembling lips. "I'm in the most awful trouble, Drew, and I was hoping you might be able to help me."
"Perhaps you ought to be talking to the police. I know a Chief Inspector Birdsong who–"
"No." She shook her head, again pressing her handkerchief to her mouth. "Oh, Drew, no. You don't understand. The police are the ones I'm going to be in trouble with!"
Madeline gave Drew a subtle glance, one he knew meant she didn't want him to get involved with anything that would interfere with their wedding plans. He squeezed her arm in acknowledgment.
"Perhaps a solicitor then. I could give you the name of the firm we use. Or, if you had rather keep the matter separate, I'm certain they could give you a referral to someone who specializes in whatever sort of case you have."
"No, no." Her voice was nearly a sob now. "I need someone unofficial, someone who can keep my name out of it."
"A private investigator then."
"I couldn't possibly go to someone like that. Poor Brent, the scandal would kill him."
Drew narrowed his eyes at her. "Just what are you afraid you'll be accused of?"
"Haven't you seen the morning paper?"
He shook his head. "At least not all of it. I was reading it over breakfast, but I always start at the back and work my way to the front. Save the headlines for last, as it were. Shall I have it brought in?"
She sniffed and then nodded three or four times. "I couldn't– Oh, Drew, I couldn't possibly tell you the awful details."
He tried to figure out how much of her fright was real and how much of it was put on to sway him, but it didn't matter. Whatever this was, it wasn't his place to help her. She had a husband, and he seemed a very good man. Surely he would stand by her whatever it was.
He rang for Denny, and in just another moment Drew had that morning's paper in hand. One bold headline caught his eye.
ACTOR RAVENSWOOD MURDERED
Drew looked up at Fleur. "Ravenswood? It was his troupe you were in back in Oxford, wasn't it? What happened?"
"Read it." A single tear traced down her porcelain cheek, and she immediately blotted it away, forcing herself to sit up straighter. "You'll want just the facts, and that will tell you better than I would be able to."
Madeline was already reading over his shoulder, and he hurried to catch up.
Local celebrity, actor John Sutherland Ravenswood, born Henry Percival Sutherland, was found at two o'clock this morning in his dressing room at the Tivoli Theater, bludgeoned to death with an empty champagne bottle. Ravenswood's wife and leading lady, Miss Simone Cullimore, already having gone home after last night's performance, called the theater to speak to Ravenswood before he left for the evening. Conor Benton, another of the actors, and one of the workmen found the star's dressing room locked, and receiving no reply to repeated knocks and calls, forced the door open.
"He was lying there with his head bashed in, mind you, and fair wallowing in his blood," said Grady Hibbert, the Tivoli's long-time stage man. "I never had nobody killed in my theater, barring on stage of course, nor seen a dead body since I was at Ypres in the Great War."
"We had all been drinking champagne," Miss Cullimore said. "It was the fifth anniversary of our opening night at the Tivoli, and everyone was in a jolly mood. Johnnie said he had a few things to see to before he went home, so I went on alone. Now I'll never see him again."
Chief Inspector James Birdsong of the Hampshire Police declined comment except to say his men were investigating the matter and that they were not prepared to name any suspects.
Again Drew looked up at Fleur, skipping the remainder of the article. "What does this have to do with you? Did you kill him?"
"Drew!" Tears sprang to her eyes, and once more she pressed the frothy bit of lace to her mouth, her body shaking. "I know what you think of me after– after Oxford, but you can't believe that of me. Not murder. Please tell me you don't."
"I haven't seen you in six years, Mrs. Landis," he told her. "And even back then, I can't say I really knew you. How would I know what you're capable of?"
MURDR AT THE MIKADO is followed by DRESSED FOR DEATH and MURDER ON THE MOOR from Bethany House. Drop me a line to let me know what you think of Drew's adventures. Happy sleuthing!
GO TO BOOK ONE: RULES OF MURDER
GO TO BOOK TWO: DEATH BY THE BOOK
GO TO BOOK FOUR: DRESSED FOR DEATH
GO TO BOOK FIVE: MURDER ON THE MOOR