Fortune Favours The Dead (2020) by Stephen Spotswood

The first time I met Lillian Pentecost, I nearly caved her skull in with a piece of lead pipe.

Willowjean “Will” Parker is the assistant to the great detective Lillian Pentecost, but never encountered any case such as the murder of Abigail Collins. The recently widowed Abigail, the recently-widowed matriarch of the Collins family met her death following a séance to speak to her husband. She was found locked inside her room, bludgeoned to death with the psychic’s crystal ball.

Lillian is hired by Abigail’s children to investigate the murder, but Abigail’s daughter already knows who the murderer is. It was perfectly simple – she was killed by her dead husband’s ghost…

This is the debut novel from playwright and journalist Stephen Spotswood, and I’m guessing after reporting on the aftermath of recent wars, he fancied a little light relief with this novel.

It’s an odd novel. The blurb for the UK edition gave me the impression of a classic locked room mystery, but this is closer to a noir thriller than a fairly clued classic mystery. Right, that’s the gripe out of the way – but it’s not really a gripe, because I really, really enjoyed this book.

Let’s start with the central characters. Will is clearly the Watson character to Lillian’s Holmes, but this is too simplistic a comparison. Lillian is suffering from MS, a condition that is making her work harder and harder, and is clearly training Will, who has skills of her own, being raised in the circus. Their friendship is rather lovely, with an element of mother-daughter thrown into the mix. Will, as the narrator, has an interesting journey throughout the tale, although her trials and tribulations never stray far from the central plot.

The suspects are a nice variety, with every character playing an important part in the narrative, which is always nice to see. Similarly, the police detective is antagonistic enough to be an effective counterpoint to our heroines while sympathetic enough to not to be a caricature.

The US cover – hence the spelling mistake…

The locked room isn’t at all bad – while it’s pretty simple and the first thing that people might think of, there’s actually a good reason for it, and again, it does involve sensible behaviour from the person or persons involved. It’s not exactly the focus of the plot though, so don’t rush out and buy it just for that, although, to be fair, it is a proper locked room. The idea of the killer being a ghost doesn’t last very long though…

As I said, this isn’t a desperately clued mystery – there are at least two important photographs, which never work well on the printed page – but there is a logic going through the whole tale. As I said, it has much more of a noir feel to it, as bad things happen to people and there is lot of blurring between guilt and innocence.

What’s the best way to recommend it? Well, I got a review copy via NetGalley and clearly it was an early Kindle version that had been adapted from a pdf, which unfortunately meant that the line spacing was all over the place, making it in theory a pain to read. I basically ignored it after a few pages, which, for a grumpy git like me is the sign of a very enjoyable read. I’m very much looking forward to reading more from this series – I think it’s got loads of potential.

Fortune Favours The Dead is out in the UK today, the 12th of November, from Wildfire, in hardback and ebook. Many thanks for the review e-copy.

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