Fortune Favors The Dead

Mysterious Book Report No. 427

by John Dwaine McKenna

Fortune Favors The Dead, (Doubleday, $26.95, 336 pages, ISBN 978-0-3855-4655-3), is the first novel from author Stephen Spotswood.  It takes place in New York City in 1945, and features a pair of female private eyes in the style and manner of Rex Stout, with Lillian Pentecost, “the most famous woman detective in the city and possible the country,” as the alternative to Nero Wolfe, and her young protégé, Willowjean Parker, standing-in for Archie Goodwin.  All similarities end there however, as Mr. Spotswood’s characters are uniquely modern and entirely his own . . . while honoring the legends of the past such as Miss Marple, Poirot or the aforementioned Nero Wolfe, who solved cases using their minds to observe, reason, and deduct, rather than guns, fists and brute strength.

The story is narrated by a twenty-something Willowjean Parker, who’s been hired as an assistant—after running away from home at age fifteen and traveling with a circus for five years—to Ms. Pentecost, who is suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, a progressive wasting disease of the central nervous system.

Their case is a murder mystery in which the heiress to a steel company is bludgeoned to death with a crystal ball in a locked room of her Manhattan mansion, where a Halloween party séance was held.  The medium turns out to be someone Ms. Pentecost has long suspected of fraudulence and chicanery, but has never faced off with as an adversary.  Add in a pair of dysfunctional twins—a girl and a boy, children of the murdered woman—an overprotective godfather to the twins, a menacing foreman at the steel company and a patient, smart and dedicated NYPD detective into the mix . . . one of who becomes a love interest of Willowjean Parker . . . and you have a great cast of traditional characters, suspects and gumshoes to entertain, enthrall, and enthuse us all for some time to come.  From the stylish, artsy Art Deco style front cover to its last page, Fortune Favors The Dead is a killer kickoff and a rousing start to what we hope will be a long-lived series!


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