‘There’s no such thing as an impossible crime….’
– Fortune Favours the Dead
[ About the Book ]
New York, 1946. Lillian Pentecost is the most successful private detective in the city, but her health is failing. She hires an assistant to help with the investigative legwork. Willowjean Parker is a circus runaway. Quick-witted and street-smart, she’s a jack-of-all-trades with a unique skill-set. She can pick locks blindfolded, wrestle men twice her size, and throw knives with deadly precision – all of which come in handy working for Ms P.
When wealthy young widow Abigail Collins is murdered and the police are making no progress, Pentecost and Parker are hired by the family to track down the culprit. On Halloween night, there was a costume party at the Collins’ mansion, where a fortune teller performed a séance which greatly disturbed Abigail. Several hours later her body was discovered bludgeoned to death in her late husband’s office. Problem is, the door to the office was locked from the inside. There was no-one else in the room, and the murder weapon was beside the victim; the fortune teller’s crystal ball.
It looks like an impossible crime, but Pentecost and Parker know there is no such thing…
[ My Review ]
Fortune Favours the Dead by Stephen Spotswood was just published November 12th with Wildfire. It is the first in this really brilliant new series starring Lillian Pentecost & Willowjean Parker, a new crime-solving duo. Described as ‘a hugely entertaining murder mystery that taps into the enduring appetite for the Golden Age crime of Agatha Christie, as well as the hardboiled American tradition of Chandler’ it is a Radio 2 Book Club title.
When I received a copy of this book recently from the publisher I let out a little screech. From the cover to the premise, it grabbed my attention immediately and I was very excited to get stuck in. It certainly did not disappoint. There is something very nostalgic about a book like this, a throw-back to a different era, to a very important time in American culture. The Second World War had just ended and life was beginning again. Stephen Spotswood was very inspired by this time in history having grown up reading Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and graduating to the hard-boiled detective novels he found in his grandmother’s bookshelves.
“The war was ending and our national attention turned inward. We had the explosion of the suburbs and the ride of the 2,5 child, white picket fence, two car garage ideal. This established history – much like hard-boiled detective fiction – is male focused and heteronormative as hell. But led by Will Parker and Lillian Pentecost this novel allowed me to look at the corners of American culture that were being erased from history and from reality”
– Stephen Spotswood
Lillian Pentecost is a force to be reckoned with. She has an uncanny ability to dig deeper than most and see things where others fail. Recognised in the city of New York as the go-to private investigator, Lillian’s workload is always mountainous. On a dark night, she crosses paths with Willowjean Parker, a circus employee who also doubles as nighttime security to make an additional few bob. Willowjean, or Will as she is known, is determined and tough, surviving in a world that has not been particularly kind to her. Lillian Pentecost sees something in Will and makes the decision to take her under her wing, to cultivate her talents.
Lillian Pentecost is rather the mysterious individual. Suffering from MS has created obvious difficulties for her but she is of a tenacious personality and, with Will by her side, she intends to continue in her quest for justice. The reader gets only a small glimpse of Lillian Pentecost’s true self when, as events occur, her concern for Will’s safety becomes very obvious. She is mainly a closed door but Will opens her up a little bit only never so much that we see who Lillian Pentecost really is.
Fortune Favours the Dead is narrated by Willowjean Parker recounting how she met with Lillian Pentecost. In this first book Will gives us an insight into one of their more interesting cases, the Collins murder. When the wife of an already dead business tycoon is murdered at a party in her own house, the police are unable to solve the case. It is a locked room mystery with no obvious clues and the family are looking for answers. Pentecost and Parker are hired to investigate the murder but soon they become embroiled in something very sinister indeed. Tenacity is the key as the mystery solving duo pick up on the crumbs that no one else can see, uncovering slights of hand and nefarious activities at every turn. The dialogue is fast, the turn of phrase smart, all bringing that hard-boiled element to the fore which I really enjoyed. All the characters in this novel are perfectly cast, all playing their part to perfection, very much bringing this story alive for the reader.
Pentecost and Parker are a formidable pair with their own very individual personalities. Will Parker is gay which is an element to this series that the author felt very strongly about, having ‘spent his career as a playwright focusing on women in lead roles and centreing queer characters’. She doesn’t take fools gladly, with a kick-ass approach to everything she does but her will is weakened when she crosses paths with the beautiful and bold society girl, Becca Collins, daughter of the victim, Abigail Collins. Can Will focus on the job at hand to catch a killer or will she be distracted by her attraction to Becca?
Lillian Pentecost is a rather enigmatic character. Now in her forties, she is challenged by her condition but refuses to let it define who she is. Every weekend she assists women in the community who are in difficulty in their work, with their husbands or landlords. She runs an open house giving advice and giving back to the community. Her work-hard ethic is exhausting but she persists and, now with Will by her side, Lillian Pentecost knows that her PI business is in safe hands.
Fortune Favours the Dead is ultimately a murder mystery but there is so much more between the pages. Stephen Spotswood brilliantly captures this fascinating era giving it a more feminist twist with two intriguing and exciting protagonists who have no fear in a world that is very much a male-dominated one. In creating a detective/crime novel with such a wonderful feisty duo, Stephen Spotswood takes the reader on a rollicking adventure recreating the classic murder mystery.
Fortune Favours the Dead is a very impressive beginning to an exhilarating new fiction series and it is lots of fun – something we all most definitely need in our lives at the moment……
[ Bio ]
Stephen Spotswood is an award-wining playwright, journalist, and theatre educator. He makes his home in Washington, DC with his wife, young adult author Jessica Spotswood, their cat, and an ever-growing collection of books.
Twitter ~ @playwrightsteve