The Essence of Malice

Written by Ashley Weaver
Review by Cynthia Slocum

British socialite Amory Ames and her debonair husband, Milo, are urged by a trusted old friend to investigate the mysterious death of a wealthy perfume magnate in Paris, and the first question to answer is whether or not it was murder. Using a harmless bit of subterfuge, they succeed in becoming acquainted with the dead man’s three adult children and young second wife, each of whom seems to have a possible motive. The pool of potential suspects also expands beyond this prominent family as clues mount up.

Amory, an intelligent, poised, and modern 1930s woman, has considerable patience with her husband’s tendency to charm women everywhere and his penchant for being intractable. However, tensions between the couple simmer when he keeps secrets from her about his comings and goings and expresses a sudden reversal of opinion concerning the question of whether a murder actually occurred. Despite years of marriage, Milo remains as much a mystery to her as the case they are trying to unravel. They appear to be working at cross purposes part of the time while she presses forward with the investigation on her own, encountering a series of red herrings until stumbling upon a treacherous adversary. The major twist at the end reveals something much larger behind the situation than originally assumed and the unexpected reasons the death occurred.

Written in first person from Amory’s point of view, this novel presents an intricate puzzle to solve. It has roots in the tradition of upper-crust amateur sleuths from the era but remains fresh and unpredictable. The main characters are sophisticated, stylish, and multi-dimensional. Effective hooks keep the action moving swiftly, and clever dialogue paired with well-developed atmosphere make it quite entertaining.