Death Wears A Mask by Ashley Weaver
I found Murder at the Brightwell to be a charming and witty read and quickly fell in love with the two series leads, Amory and Milo. Death Wears A Mask picks up their story soon after the events of the first book but here we find that Amory and Milo’s relationship was not repaired just because they solved a case together.
It turns out that word has spread through London society about their adventures and soon Amory is approached by an old friend who is seeking her help. She believes that one of her friends has been stealing jewels from her home and wants Amory to put her detective skills to work to discretely figure out the guilty party without getting the police involved.
Amory reluctantly agrees to help set and spring a trap, using a fine necklace as bait at a high society party but when a guest is murdered at that party she finds herself once again investigating a murder.
There are a number of challenges that any second novel in a series, particularly one featuring a pair of amateur detectives, must face and overcome. It is often difficult for an author to find a credible way for the heroes to find their way into another murder case. After all, while we may accept that someone might find themselves confronted with a death in mysterious circumstances once, it can be hard to accept it happening on a regular basis.
This story faces an additional challenge however in that the first book seemed to have advanced the relationship between Amory and Milo to a much healthier, and perhaps less entertaining, point. If Weaver picked up exactly where she left off we would likely have a very different relationship and the approach to the story would have to be altered whereas if she ignored those developments and simply repeated the formula the reader is likely to feel a little cheated.
On the latter point I think Weaver makes some very smart choices. Rather than presenting us with an Amory and Milo who have resolved their trust issues and repaired their relationship, Milo still behaves in a thoughtless and insensitive way with regards Amory. In addition, Amory finds that she has attracted the interest of a notorious womanizer, causing Milo to become quite moody and jealous. In short, if you enjoyed their cool bickering and mutual mistrust in the first book you will have plenty to enjoy here.
Weaver is less successful in the way she approaches the first problem, although I think she had the right instinct to have Amory accidentally find herself engaged in another murder investigation while working on another case. While I might ignore one simple coincidence, we then have an additional and unnecessary one added when Detective Inspector Jones turns up having been given a transfer.
Matters are not helped either by the case being much less colorful than her first. The mechanics of what was done and how it was achieved were not particularly helpful while the array of suspects lacks some of the glamour and charm of those found in the earlier novel. Nor does it help much that the situation in which the crime occurs feels less dramatic than in Brightwell as Amory’s investment in the outcome is much lower when her ex’s life was on the line.
Even when featured in a weaker mystery such as this, Amory and Milo cannot help but be entertaining. Sure, some of the obstacles to their reconciliation introduced here feel a little contrived to produce conflict but what makes this pairing work so well is the sense that the reader knows exactly who they are and the personalities they project. Both are extremely witty, cool and Amory’s wonderful practicality in the face of danger makes her a charming heroine.
While Death Wears A Mask may not be quite as accomplished as its predecessor, it still possesses charm and wit in abundance. If you enjoyed Amory and Milo’s first outing, there is plenty to enjoy here.