Book Review: A Deception at Thornecrest by Ashley Weaver
By Angie BarrySeptember 9, 2020
Socialite-turned-amateur detective Amory Ames is about to turn into something else: a mother.
Nearing the end of her pregnancy, Amory has left the glitz and glamour of 1930’s London for the peace and quiet of Thornecrest, her husband Milo’s country house in Kent. There, her days are filled with planning the Springtide Festival, the annual village event to be held at the grassy fields of Bedford Priory.
But, as is so often the case for Amory, peace and quiet is short-lived.
It was on a sunny spring morning in the eighth month of my pregnancy that a woman arrived on my doorstep claiming to be married to my husband.
Amory and Milo have had more than their fair share of marital strife over the past six years, but now that they’ve found a steadier footing, this strange woman’s announcement is exceedingly poorly timed. Amory quickly sets to work clearing up the matter but, unfortunately, the truth behind all of the confusion only leaves the Ames with a different problem: a surprise, ne’er-do-well half-brother.
Darien Ames has inherited the same dashing good looks from Milo’s father, as well as Milo’s penchant for romantic entanglements and scandal. In very short order, a love triangle is threatening the Springtide Festival.
Suddenly, without warning, Bertie turned and, lunging forward, punched Darien in the face. Marena screamed, and Jenny jumped farther behind the desk as though she was next in line to be assaulted, her freckles standing out in sharp relief against the sudden whiteness of her face.
To Darien’s credit, he didn’t fall. Instead, he staggered backward, catching himself on the edge of the front desk.
Blood streamed from his nose and lip, staining the cuff of his shirt as he wiped it away and pulled himself upright.
“I’ll kill you for this,” he said coldly. I was surprised at the dignity—and the sincerity—with which he managed to imbue the words with his face streaked with blood.
Bertie was unfazed and unrepentant. “Go ahead and try it,” he said.
When a young man’s body is found the day of the Festival, and evidence begins to mount implicating Darien, Amory sets to work exonerating her brother-in-law, even as Milo announces he’s completely washed his hands of the young man.
The deeper Amory digs, however, more and more long-buried secrets tumble out into the light. The sleepy village of Allingcross isn’t as wholesome as it appears, and with the birth of her baby nearing, Amory will have to tread carefully as the body count rises…
Weaver has once again delivered a thoroughly charming historical whodunit. While previous installments in the Amory Ames series were packed with the glitter of city life and the excitement of foreign travel, A Deception at Thornecrest takes a step back into a pastoral setting that allows our heroine to get her Miss Marple on.
Indeed, this is the most Agatha Christie-ish of Weaver’s books thus far. We’re treated to charming descriptions of the picturesque village and the rustic delights of the Festival. The supporting cast includes the tragic vicar’s wife, confined to a wheelchair after an accident; the local beauty caught between vastly different men; a horse-mad noblewoman; a rakish lothario who leaves heartbroken conquests scattered in his wake; and the bad-tempered beekeeper some in town call a witch.
And the mystery itself isn’t merely about a murder: very nasty things are revealed throughout Amory’s investigation, proving that even seemingly respectable people can hide black hearts and dangerous ambition.
As always, Amory pushes back against the expectations of both society and her husband. This lady investigator isn’t about to let pregnancy slow her search for the truth, and she finds an unexpected ally in Lady Alma:
“…Then it occurred to me that perhaps I should speak to you first. After all, you’re the crime solver in the family, aren’t you? Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you can’t be involved. Never thought a woman should be excluded from doing what they’re good at just because of biology.”
Plenty of time is also devoted to Amory’s private thoughts as she readies herself for motherhood. Family is a running theme here, both those that prove toxic and ones built around sincere love, as Amory pushes Milo to create a relationship with Darien and uncover the lost details of his long-dead mother. The pressure is on and it remains to be seen: will Milo, known around the world as a smooth-talking and cool-tempered playboy, step up and be a better father than his own was to him?
A Deception at Thornecrest is the slowest paced installment of Weaver’s series thus far, but that’s in its favor. After so many whirlwind escapades that took our heroes to France and New York, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous during ritzy parties, it’s nice to pause and have space for both the characters and the audience to reflect. As a result, Deception is the closest Amory’s come to having a “cozy” mystery, though there’s far more substance here than is usually found in that sub-genre.
While it helps to have read the previous six installments in the series, to understand the full context of Amory and Milo’s relationship, A Deception at Thornecrest is self-contained enough that newcomers will still enjoy it thoroughly.
And it’s proof that Weaver still has plenty of mileage left in this high-society pair. Amory is just as capable away from the bright lights and champagne, and shows that a lady can achieve anything she puts her mind to, even when her ankles are swollen and her baby insists on kicking every five minutes. Motherhood promises to make her an even more likable heroine.