Book Review: Fortune Favours the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

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…

I’d seen this book popping up over time on social media and was granted a Netgalley copy to read as the book approached paperback publication, it then as happens sometimes sat on my kindle for a little while awaiting its turn to be read.

I thought the concept of the narrative worked really well – Will looking back over past cases and writing up an interesting one for us, the reader. It does mean of course that you know Will at least will come out of the adventures unscathed enough to still be telling the tale but that didn’t detract from the story.

The tale is set in America in the later half of the 1940’s after the end of the second world war. This fits the hard-boiled PI style perfectly. We start the story with Will leaving circus life to go and work for Ms Pentecost after their paths cross on one of Ms Pentecost’s earlier cases. Will’s skills learned form the different disciplines at the circus are well suited to detective work, and she isn’t afraid to put them to use, nor of standing out in a crowd, either in her personal life, which sees her comfortable dating women or her professional one where she confidently handles herself in a male dominated world. Will is an immensely likeable character and a trustworthy narrator for the book.

Lillian Pentecost is harder to get a grip on, perhaps because we only see her through Will’s eyes. She is clearly great at her job and cares greatly for Will and her housekeeper. We also get a glimmer into Pentecost’s possible background with Will introducing us to the free assistance Ms Pentecost offers to women in need. We don’t however know what she is feeling most of the time or the full impact of her illness (MS) on her.

Will and Lillian made a good detective paring and it was nice to see a detective pair where there is no potential romance involved as well.

I did enjoy the story and will likely pick up the next in the series when it publishes but it didn’t quite capture me in the way I hoped it would from other reviews I had seen. Still, overall and enjoyable read.

With thanks to and Netgalley for a copy in exchange for honest review.

Fortune Favours the Dead is available now.

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