The Kill Fee: Poppy Denby #2 by Fiona Veitch Smith

The Kill Fee (Poppy Denby Investigates #2)The Kill Fee by Fiona Veitch Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Kill Fee is a historical fiction murder mystery set in 1920s London. The intrepid heroine, Poppy Denby, works as the Arts and Entertainment editor for The Daily Globe, promoted to that position after exposing a huge scandal in the first Poppy Denby Investigates book, The Jazz Files, which I haven’t read and which was shortlisted for the Crime Writer’s Association’s Endeavor Historical Dagger Award (say that ten times fast). The Kill Fee is a pretty standard mystery novel: a couple of murders, a mild splash or two of blood, love interests, thefts of priceless artifacts, a couple of red herrings, clueless police, aristocrats incognito, missing persons, and political intrigue. Smith sets this book shortly after the collapse of the Russian aristocracy and weaves her story around the theft of a Fabergé egg from a London exhibition. There’s a map of Poppy’s 1920s London at the front of the book, a list of the pertinent fictional characters, and a list of the pertinent historical characters. And a brief explanation of the difference between a White Russian (the person kind, not the beverage kind) and a Red Russian. Smith included every possible thing to make her story easy to follow. And yet, I have mixed feelings about this book. The burgeoning romance between Poppy and her beau Daniel feels contrived and their fights feel forced. Poppy apparently gets butterflies making eye contact with wealthy, powerful Russian, which her boyfriend somehow senses and is jealous of. In spite of the fact that literally nothing happens. As if the whole scenario was included to have the hint of a love triangle. Assuming that thinking that a person other than your current romantic partner is attractive qualifies as a love triangle. Or a sin. Poppy seems to have the attitude that even thinking that maybe someone else isn’t too bad looking is infidelity. Her best friend Delilah has much freer sexual mores and isn’t shamed for it, although she does find true love in this novel and seems to be turning towards monogamy. So it’s not clear if this is a case of including non-standard relationships or of a “fallen” woman being saved by the power of love. There’s a lot of Christian undertones in the story, despite it not being marketed as Christian literature. Or mentioned in any part of the description, website, or back cover blurb. Until the end of the novel you can write the “God” references off as part of the culture of the time. How everyone was religious because everyone was religious, and not being religious wasn’t an option. Then people start praying. The sort of earnest, heartfelt prayers for wisdom – from people who’ve been handling things fine on their own up til then – you read in Christian novels. Complete with introductions, in case the omnipotent, omnipresent god of the entire universe doesn’t know who is talking to him. And apologies for lax church attendance too. God isn’t going to be pleased that you’re working to stop a killer if you haven’t been religious with your church attendance too. The whole set up really got under my skin. It’s possible other readers won’t mind it nearly as much. It depends on your attitude towards religion, but because there’s nothing to indicate the upcoming religiousity on the outside of the book, readers wind up going in blind. Anyone not amenable to a dose of Christianity with their murder mystery is going to be unpleasantly surprised. I think Smith is maybe trying to break Christian literature into the mainstream, but in my opinion there’s enough religion to irritate the secular readers and too little to satisfy the religious ones. It winds up being weirdly discordant and feels poorly integrated, so hopefully in Smith’s future novels she’ll find a way to work that in more smoothly. Hopefully the publisher will be up front about it. It’s not a bad book overall, but I personally would have wanted to know a book was going to be evangelizing at me before I started reading it.

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