There is nothing I love more than finding a new detective series to read. I’ll devour a good mystery of any sort, but when it’s a series, that’s like stumbling on buried treasure. My latest discovery is the Pentecost and Parker novels by Stephen Spotswood. Set in the 1940’s, they feature Lillian Pentecost, “New York City’s preeminent gumshoe,” and her assistant, Willowjean Parker. Pentecost is the brains; Will is the younger, more agile brawn; and both carry plenty of attitude – and heart. Both are unique characters, especially for their time: Pentecost, a Sherlock Holmes-ian genius, lives with MS, and Parker, who can throw a knife with deadly accuracy, is queer.
The first book, Fortune Favors the Dead, brings this duo together. Will is working for a traveling circus when her paths cross with Lillian on a New York City stop. Lillian, impressed with Will’s quick thinking and skill with a knife, asks Will to join her and learn the private detective trade. Their first case involves the murder of a high-society widow, who was found dead in a locked room during a party at her New York mansion. A famous spiritualist is the prime suspect, Will gets involved with the victim’s daughter, and both women are stretched almost to the breaking point to get the crime solved.
In the second book, Murder Under Her Skin, Pentecost and Parker travel to Virginia, where the manager of Hart and Halloway’s Traveling Circus has called them in to solve the murder of Ruby Donner, the circus’s “Amazing Tattooed Woman.” Will has a vested interest in the case because she worked for the circus for five years – these people are her family. Yet there are secrets among them that she never knew existed.
The books have snappy dialogue, plenty of action, and a classic noir feel. Parker, the narrator, has a voice that is just the right balance of snarky and smart. The settings are rich and atmospheric and the pages turn fast. And good news: book #3, Secrets Typed in Blood, is due to release in December 2022. Now there’s a title for my Christmas reading list!