Book Review: A Dangerous Engagement by Ashley Weaver
By Angie BarrySeptember 12, 2019
A Dangerous Engagement is the stylish, charming sixth novel in the Edgar-nominated Amory Ames mystery series by Ashley Weaver, set in 1930s New York.
There were four or five shots fired in rapid succession followed by a moment of deafening silence.
I jumped up from the bed, but Milo had beaten me to it, motioning me to stay back while he moved toward the window. The lace curtains suddenly seemed like a very flimsy defense against whatever was lurking out there in the darkness.
He pulled one of them back and glanced outside. I could make out the reflection of his face in the glass, his eyes scanning the street below.
“Do you see anything?” I asked, pulling on my dressing gown.
He shook his head. “No. I can’t see much from here.”
“I wonder if we should ring the police,” I said, a feeling of dread filling me.
“I imagine someone will,” Milo replied. “I don’t supposed this neighborhood is used to that sort of commotion.”
If they were unused to that, then they were probably wholly unprepared for the shrieks that suddenly began to emanate from the street below. My stomach clenched at the pure terror in them, the hair rising on my arms…
British socialite Amory Ames and her dashing husband Milo are in New York for a childhood friend’s wedding. With the Depression hitting America hard, Amory is rather surprised to see that Tabitha Alden and her father are living as extravagantly as ever—Mr. Alden’s shipping business is flourishing where so many other businesses are folding—and are in the midst of planning a sumptuous high society wedding.
Tabitha’s courtship was a whirlwind one, and no one seems to know anything about fiancé Tom Smith before he arrived in New York five years ago. Amory has slight misgivings over that, but Tom strikes her as an exceedingly kind and wholesome man, and the love between him and Tabitha is undeniable.
The rest of the wedding party—bridesmaid Jemma Petrie, groomsman Rudy Elliot—seem to be just as likable. Save for Grant Palmer: a cynical groomsman with ties to organized crime who causes friction with everyone.
Then, just days after Amory and Milo’s arrival, Mr. Palmer is shot dead on the Aldens’ doorstep. With his criminal background, many are quick to pin the blame on gangsters.
But Amory suspects that’s just a convenient cover for the real murderer. Prior to the shooting, she witnessed several heated arguments with the groomsman. Besides she and Milo, no one else has a solid alibi. And since the shooting, no one in the wedding party seems to be grieving that much for their so-called friend.
Could Tabitha’s father, Mr. Alden, be the gunman? Perhaps his shipping company owed its success to less-than-legal avenues; with Prohibition in effect and Mr. Palmer’s underworld connections, bootlegging may be the obvious answer. And Tabitha, who deeply loves her father, may have done something drastic to protect him and his company.
Amory overheard Tom say he “wouldn’t let the past keep following him.” Was Mr. Palmer blackmailing him? Does Tom Smith have a sordid history he’s hiding from his fiancée?
Jemma Petrie outwardly hated the man, and yet Tom reported seeing her leave his apartment late at night. Rudy and Grant were childhood friends, but could a recent clash over a woman have driven the amiable ad exec to shoot his old friend?
As the layers of drama unfold, Amory muses:
It seems that my life is a carousel that, instead of brass rings, always brings me back to the moment when stern-faced policemen are asking me questions.
The sixth in the Amory Ames Mysteries, A Dangerous Engagement proves that Weaver hasn’t lost steam yet. Amory remains a charming amateur sleuth, a socialite who cares more about justice than wealth. She’s as daring as ever, affecting an American disguise to interview an infamous mobster in his own speakeasy.
This being 1933 New York, with Prohibition still in swing, it’s only natural that scarred gangsters, trenchcoat-wearing detectives, oddly-named henchmen, gunfire, and night club chanteuses would make dramatic appearances. Wisely, Weaver doesn’t overplay the tropes, saving much of the real action for the explosively exciting third act.
As with her previous mysteries, Weaver deftly clouds the waters in a way that makes anyone a believable murderer with solid motivations—and yet still pulls out a great, surprising twist at the end.
There’s a steady build-up of intrigue as Amory overhears crucial conversations, collects clues, and spars with husband Milo before everything comes to a crashing head that reveals the culprit and explains all of the unanswered questions in a thoroughly satisfying fashion.
Mixed in with the murder investigation is a personal revelation that promises to drastically change things for Amory and Milo in future installments, setting the stage for much more personal stakes. (Can’t wait to see what Weaver does with that!)
While it certainly makes for a richer read to have enjoyed the preceding five adventures, A Dangerous Engagement is solid enough to serve as a standalone; newcomers could jump in here without too much confusion. So if you’re a passionate fan of Prohibition-era whodunits and love determined, fashionable lady sleuths, don’t miss this one. Amory — and Weaver — has yet to disappoint.