Murder Under Her Skin (2021) by Stephen Spotswood

New York 1946. Will Parker and Lillian Pentecost are in court ensuring the conviction of an arsonist. Once that has been handled, however, Will finds herself facing up to her past – Hart and Halloway’s Travelling Circus and Sideshow, where she spent five formative years, is in dire need of her help.

Ruby Donner, the tattooed lady and friend of Will has been murdered, stabbed in the dark, and Valentin Kalishenko, the man who taught Will everything she ever knew about a knife, is sitting in a prison cell, destined for a rope – unless the truth can be discovered.

Heading for Stoppard, Virginia, Will and Ms Pentecost find themselves surrounded by people who do not trust them in the slightest. When it transpires that Stoppard was Ruby’s hometown, it seems the circle of suspects is much wider than they first thought…

Sorry, usual apology for the delay in new reviews, but COVID-brain is really cutting into my reading time. I do implore every reader out there to take care of themselves. Things seem to be getting pretty hairy at the moment, so just be sensible. And on the off-chance any readers haven’t got vaccinated, pleased reconsider.

Right, public information announcement over, what about this book?

It’s the sequel to Fortune Favo(u)rs The Dead, an excellent mystery, closer to noir than to the traditional mystery format, but not so close that I didn’t enjoy it. It, as with this title, is a testament to that format working if you care about the participants. Will Parker, now a more assured investigator than in the first book, and Lillian Pentecost, her mentor/friend/partner who is training her up to replace her when her illness becomes too much. The tale, narrated by Will Parker, is delivered in a strong voice and while it deals with her personal issues as well as the mystery, it never wanders too far from the plot.

As with noir in general, it does wander (for me) a little too much from incident to incident before the finale, but unlike some examples, the various incidents do coalesce to form one big picture. The murderer, for this old hand at the game, did stick out a tad due to a narrative trick that is as old as the hills.

Regardless, this is an entertaining read, another book to make good use of the circus as a backdrop, and a promising continuation to the series and the adventures of two of the most intriguing protagonists for a long time.

Many thanks to Wildfire for the review copy. Murder Under The Skin is out now in hardback and ebook.

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