A Dangerous Engagement
by Ashley Weaver
Minotaur Books, 2019
In A Dangerous Engagement, the newest installment of Ashley Weaver’s ongoing cozy mystery series, British socialite Amory Ames unsurprisingly finds herself in the middle of yet another murder mystery. Though readers will recognize the trusty formula that the books consistently lean on – Amory and her charming devil of a husband Milo attend a social event that ends in tragedy – Weaver injects a dose of the unfamiliar into the sixth book. This time around, the Ameses find themselves traveling across the pond to New York City for the wedding of Amory’s childhood friend turned pen pal, Tabitha. But when someone in the wedding party turns up dead ahead of the big day, many questions linger. Not the least of which is whether or not the wedding will go on as planned.
The shift in location provides a much-needed challenge for Amory. She’s been an underhanded investigator in so many mysteries back in her home country that, by this point, her former adversary Detective Inspector Jones seems to practically consider her an honorary member of the force. But not only does she not know much about the city of New York, there are also cultural differences to contend with as she subjects everyone involved to her usual barrage of questions. Americans are far more forthright than the tight-lipped set to which Amory is accustomed. This may assist her in her snooping, but only if she can learn to use it to her advantage.
The book takes place in the early 1930s, so Amory and Milo disembark into a country still shackled by Prohibition, although everyone is starting to feel the tingle of its impending repeal. Amory is surprised to see how brazenly the law is ignored as she tags along with Tabitha to various venues ahead of the wedding. But, as Milo correctly notes, “They ought to have known that telling people they mustn’t have something only makes them want it more.” It’s this fact that attracts bootleggers and gangsters to the lucrative trade; their exploits are not only printed on the rap sheets of their minions, but all over the newspapers. It just so happens that Amory’s bubbly lady’s maid Winnelda considers gossip her scripture and can update her employer about the hustlers turning profits off of the Eighteenth Amendment.
One of these notorious characters, Leon De Lora, rumored to be as dashing in looks as his name suggests, runs an eponymous speakeasy in plain view and is known to turn to violence if crossed. Between tips from the wedding party, convenient funds funneling into accounts previously wiped out by the Crash, and odd encounters caught by eavesdropping, it seems likely that De Lora, or another equally dishonest character, had a hand in the crime.
Not content to accept any one possible explanation, Amory takes turns suspecting each member of the wedding party. She’s playing catch-up, trying to glean as much information about the unfamiliar crowd while also attempting to be discreet. She finds that she doesn’t even entirely know how individuals within the group became acquainted with one another and no one would expect her to procure their entire history in such a small window of time. For this, she’ll rely on her somewhat-reluctant other half to use his charm to win over the men and maybe even temporarily go back to his former rapscallion ways for the good of the cause.
While this is helpful for Amory’s investigation, it proves to be a painful reminder of the early, less happy days of their marriage. Through this series, we’ve seen the pair begin to mend all that was previously broken and enter a much better phase of their relationship, but that doesn’t mean that every wound has closed over. In this book, Amory worries about how well she and Milo have learned to keep one another out of the loop. In fact, she’s about had it with the lack of transparency in the world in general:
I felt suddenly very weary. Why must there always be so many secrets? It seemed no matter where I went, people were always hiding things and making them worse with their deceit. Lies never worked out well in the end; they always managed to hurt people more than the truth might have.
Perhaps inspired by frank nature of the Americans they’re surrounded by, Milo and Amory resolve to be honest with one another, regardless of the personal cost. It marks another step forward for the pair who seem to have used these first six books of the series as a form of pre-marital counseling they never got to enjoy. They have always knows they are crazy about one another, but, no doubt through lack of example, don’t entirely know how to be good partners. Yet the end of this book very much feels like one last element has clicked into place to allow Milo and Amory to graduate to a whole new level.
Though the mystery is not the most sophisticated Weaver has crafted, this installment was clearly intended to highlight relationships and their importance to the characters. Finally meeting Tabitha, a character often referred to in previous books, will likely be a treat for readers and the chemistry between the married pair is as electric as ever. Most importantly, this book sets up exciting changes in the future our main characters, giving readers probable cause for elation that Weaver is far from done writing these delightful mysteries.
—Olive Fellows is a young professional and Booktuber (at http://youtube.com/c/abookolive) living in Pittsburgh.