Fortune Favors the Dead is the first book in the “Pentecost and Parker” mystery series. If you like a little bit of Sherlock Holmes and a little bit of hard-boiled noir, this could be the series for you!
The Pentecost half of the series is the (in)famous NYC private detective, Ms. Pentecost. Ms. Pentecost is a 1940s Sherlock Holmes – she is hyper-observant, obsessive, and perhaps a little uncaring of her crime-solving crew at times. She is more interested in justice than anything else. Even her own deteriorating health.
The Parker half is Will Parker, a carnival worker who quickly becomes the Watson to Pentecost’s Holmes. How? By a chance meeting on the carnival grounds that turns into a life-changing job opportunity.
Will (short for “Willowjean,” but don’t call her that) leaves the carnival in favor of working as Pentecost’s assistant and perhaps protege.
In their first story together, Pentecost and Parker find themselves in the middle of a New York City upper-crust scandal. A war-mongering man of industry commits suicide in his office. Not long after, a seance gone wild leads to his wife dying by fire in his very office. In the middle of a company party, no less! Suspects are everywhere, and so are secrets. The family hires Pentecost instead of working more directly with the police – they need answers, but they don’t need headlines. Twists and turns abound.
Let me say what I don’t like about this book first – author Stephen Spotswood sometimes hides the ball. What I mean by that is the narrator knows things that aren’t shared with the reader. My understanding of the genre (perhaps from Raymond Chandler letters?) is that the reader should learn the information when the protagonist learns it (correct or incorrect) so that we have a shot at solving the mystery, too. In this case sometimes Spotswood leaves out things that Parker knows. That bugged me a little as a fan, but it’s a pretty minor quibble. There are still bread crumbs along the way, as well.
What I did like – Will Parker and the plot. Will is acerbic, randy, and ready to rumble, as you would hope a hard-boiled hero would be. However, she is also very humane. There is a vulnerability to her not usually seen in the genre. (Spotswood credits his wife, YA writer Jessica Spotswood, for giving him the note to include more of Parker’s inner processing of events.) That humanity elevates the plot from mystery-by-the-numbers to a more compelling book. Don’t get me wrong – it’s fun. But the characters are memorable.
I’ll be back in a couple of months for book two for sure.