Another crime series? Where to go these days with the genre it seems? Well, in this instance to 1940s New York and a wonderful new dynamically different duo. This is the first in the Pentecost & Parker series and is a thoroughly entertaining murder mystery.
Lillian Pentecost is the most successful private detective in the city, but her health (a sympathetic description of someone dealing with MS) is failing and physically she no longer feels ‘up to the job’. So when her path crosses with Willowjean Parker she finds a young and very suitable partner for her investigative legwork.
What a name Willowjean Parker is! So no surprise that she hails from the Hart & Halloway travelling circus to which she escaped as a runaway in her teenage years. There she found a home and a loving family (after her mother died and her father subjected her to much cruelty). There she picked up lots of skills – good acrobatics, throwing knives with deadly precision – that Rishi Sunak would find these days – totally transferable into the world of being a private detective!
Willowjean is our narrator and makes the novel personable with her care for her boss and hints at her background (which may further develop in later tales). We are three years on from them meeting when wealthy young widow Abigail Collins is murdered with a crystal ball at a Halloween party with many guests/suspects the police are making no progress. This is also a classic locked room murder. With sordid rumours circulating amongst especially in the city newspapers Pentecost & Parker are hired by the family to track down the culprit. There are some interesting characters in the frame amongst the family and outside business and social associates. It is big business for the Collins family as their father had made money from WWII trading his manufacturing factories into machines for war and now the valuable contracts are up for renegotiation. Siblings Rebecca and Randolf have much to gain from the deaths but so do a mysterious web of those involved in seances, spirits and spooks. Was Abigail even murdered by ‘the ghost of our father.’
I loved Hiram who works in the mortuary and gives access to the pair seeking evidence and the academic Professor Olivia Waterhouse who has more than a passing interest in the occult. There is a great sense of the excitement of New York – compared it would have to be said for post war Britain at the time. Parker retains her links and friends in the circus adding to the lively backdrop and Lillian may be physically struggling but her steely mind breaks through the people obstructing their investigations and with her obvious charm and concern for young Willowjean who can get into places she can’t they make a different but highly readable pair of sleuths.
Review by Philipa Coughlan
As a personal read this was an excellent dip into a new crime series which I’ll investigate further. I am sure book groups will love it too.
Published by Wildfire, an Imprint of Headline (12 November 2020)
Hardback, ISBN 978-1-4722-7477-9
Read Philipa’s interview with Stephen Spotswood here