I am continuing my crime fiction spree with An Act of Villainy by Ashley Weaver. Amateur sleuth Amory Ames and her formerly philandering husband, Milo, are called to investigate a series of threatening letters sent to Flora Bell, a rising theatrical star and mistress of their married friend, Gerald Holloway. When Flora is killed on opening night, everyone in the cast is a suspect. Amory must find the real killer to save the Holloways’ marriage.
An Act of Villainy is the fifth book in the Amory Ames series. I have read none of them. I followed the plot without any problem. Weaver is skilled at establishing background without being bogged down. We know that Amory and Milo had difficult times in their marriage but have since rekindled their affections, through solving murders. We don’t need to know anything else to enjoy this engaging mystery.
Weaver’s greatest strength is her character work. She manages to elicit sympathy for a betrayed wife, her cheating husband, and his mistress all at the same time. The stereotypical villains have soft emotions, beloved families, and sordid pasts. Amory is an intelligent detective with lots of empathy and little patience for patriarchy. She inserts herself into a murder investigation, in 1933, with little to no pushback through sheer quiet determination. She doesn’t sneak through alleys or infiltrate criminal organizations. She sits down and drinks tea. Somehow this solves murders.
Unfortunately, this particular murder left a bad taste in my mouth. The mystery is technically serviceable, though the culprit felt shoehorned in. Like Amory, I suspected nearly everyone else before the actual killer, because there was no stated evidence against them until the last few chapters. There was no smoking gun, merely a collection of details glazed over as description. Of course, we learn about dozens of suspicious deaths surrounding the murderer, after they confess. Amory solves the case thanks to an offhand remark from her mother, rather than actual detective work. The solution was a surprise, not because of its originality, but because there were more likely options.
The rest of the story was good enough to overshadow the lackluster solution. For me, the actual crime is the least important element of detective fiction. I want to follow the clues and solve the case, yes, but most importantly I want to care about the characters involved. I care about Amory Ames, so I’m looking forward to reading her other adventures.