Cover Image: Fortune Favors the Dead

Fortune Favors the Dead

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Member Reviews

It has taken me months to finish this book. Let me say that the story wasn't bad... I actually didn't have time to read it or to listen to the audiobook.

The book has a different plot... I don't usually read books about detectives, but I enjoyed the story and it was entertaining. Also, the setting, atmosphere, and action scenes were great and well-written.

I don't have much more to say, to be honest, it was interesting and I think I would read the second book.
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This was SO good. Think a female Sherlock with actual people skills and a scrappy female Watson with a past as a circus entertainer. And then plop them down in post-WWII New York, throw in an intriguing mystery, and give them some well-written side characters to go toe-to-toe with. That's this book! If you like mysteries, especially historical mysteries, I think this is going to be one of your next favorites.
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It’s the early 1940s in New York and private investigator Lillian Pentecost and her assistant Willowjean or Will Parker are hired to investigate the murder of socialite Abigail Collins. She was found dead in the same chair as her wealthy husband who took his life the previous year. The room was locked from the inside, so rumors abound that she was killed by the spirit of her dead husband. While the police focus on the family’s financial records, Lillian and Will question potential suspects: the beautiful but cold daughter, the angry and resentful son, the secretive godfather, a spooky spiritualist, and a large caste of factory workers with their own stories about the Collins’. 

Fortune Favors the Dead is a fast paced, lightweight, and engaging whodunit. I felt I was watching film noir and reading an old hard-boiled detective novel, written in a breezy chick lit voice. Both women are ahead of their time. Lillian is a smart no-nonsense woman from the upper crust of life. She makes a good living investigating and solving crimes the police can’t, commands her own life, but opens her doors to help abused women. Will is a street-smart young woman who isn’t afraid to stand up to anyone either verbally or physically or of her own sexuality in an era that wasn’t tolerant. 

The mystery of who killed Abigail and why is sustained throughout the novel as the plot “thickens” and weaves in and out of characters and suspects and their connection to the Collins’. The ending was satisfying and hinted at a sequel with another female character as a possible nemesis or Moriarty-type figure to Lillian and Will. Overall, the novel gives only passing references to the war or the moral and cultural norms of the day but was fun to read.  
Reviewed for the Historical Novel Society
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I loved the characters in this book. I enjoy a lot of classic detective fiction, and I loved how this book paid homage to those classics while being inclusive with the characters and broadening the horizons of the genre. I will most certainly be looking forward to more books in this series.
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Unfortunately this novel and I did not get on well. The premise immediately hooked me however once I started reading, the pacing was too slow. The plot felt stagnant. I will not be sharing my opinions in a review outside of NetGalley.
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I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted anything as badly as I want to be best friends with Will Parker. 

This book is about as close to perfect as it gets, and a huge part of that is the outstanding Miss Willowjean Parker, aka Will. As protagonists go, she’s as good as they get. And the surrounding cast? Also excellent, every one of them. 

Spotswood’s exceptional cast of characters is just the tip of the iceberg of what makes this novel so wonderful. I went into this book thinking it was going to be a semi-cozy historical mystery. And it absolutely is. But it’s also so much more than that. 

The exceptional humor of Fortune Favors the Dead is rare in the genre, as is the complex but perfectly executed solve. There are loads of moving parts driving the plot, but they all sync up flawlessly in the end. 

It’s rare to find a mystery (especially one in this subgenre) that is both exceptionally smart and well-constructed as well as filled with humor, charm, and the kind of characters you imagine you’d happily run through a wall for. 

The fact that this appears to be part of an ongoing series is the best book news I’ve heard in ages. More, more, more of Will and Lillian please, and the sooner the better!
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This was a lot of fun! The mystery was great, and the atmosphere was very vintage and real. Great stuff! I'm excited to see what happens next.
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I picked this up this week because I was a bit unsatisfied with the Holmes collection over the weekend. I was still left with a taste for a bit of classic mystery with a twist – or two or ten – and for something a bit more Holmes-like than that collection.

Fortune Favors the Dead turned out to be everything I wanted, even if in the end it was nothing I expected. And that’s a great thing!

The story here is about a detective duo at the very beginning of their partnership, but Pentecost and Parker are nothing like Holmes and Watson, and not just because Lillian Pentecost and Willowjean Parker are both female.

As the story, and the case, opens, Pentecost and Parker are on the opposing sides of the law, their lives, and their careers. Not that Will Parker could be said to have a career at this point in her life.

Will is a “cirky girl”, a circus performer who ran away from home and her abusive father and quite literally joined the circus. She’s only 20 as this story begins, and it is her story, told in her first-person voice with her own inimitable style.

But it’s told from a perspective several years past the events, and Will has grown up more than a bit, as well as acquired a polish of education, courtesy of the famous detective Ms. Lillian Pentecost. Whose life she saves in the opening act of the story by throwing a knife into Ms. Pentecost’s assailant. Once the dust settles and the police are finally satisfied that thorn-in-their-side Pentecost didn’t set up the entire altercation in order to have her “associate” off the bastard, Pentecost offers Parker a job as her assistant.

Not because, honestly, she wants an assistant, but because she needs one. Being a private investigator is a physically demanding and occasionally dangerous job. A job that Pentecost is still more than intellectually capable of but no longer physically up to. She has multiple sclerosis, and the disease is progressing.

Relatively slowly in her case. At the moment. But that could change. And her inevitable physical decline will only be accelerated if she continues on her present course. Hence the need for an assistant who can become her apprentice, perform the more physical aspects of their cases, and ultimately become the lead investigator.

This is the story of, not their first case, but their first seriously important case. A case that has so many twists and turns that it practically ties itself into a knot. Only for Will and Ms. Pentecost to discover that there has been someone hiding in the shadows, pulling all the strings, all along.

Since the very first night they met.

Escape Rating A+: I loved this, but I loved it because it oh-so-explicitly is NOT Holmes. Instead, Fortune Favors the Dead turned out to be a gender-bent, slightly twisted version of an entirely different classic detective pair.

Pentecost and Parker are updated female avatars for Nero Wolfe and his right-hand and both-legs man Archie Goodwin. And was it ever refreshing to read something that was both so completely different and yet so much a piece of something that I loved but hadn’t read in years.

While Wolfe and Goodwin were a pair of classic mystery detectives of the old school, they were also different in some of the same ways that Pentecost and Parker are different. At first blush, Wolfe is the genius and Goodwin is the sidekick, just as with Pentecost and Parker.

But, like Pentecost will be, Wolfe is physically restricted to his own New York Brownstone, even if Wolfe’s restrictions are entirely self-imposed. Goodwin does all the leg work for all of their cases and then brings the results to Wolfe. Goodwin is also a licensed private investigator in his own right, and he is the one who narrates their cases, very much in his own voice and in a noirish, hard-boiled style similar to Parker’s.

Goodwin makes mistakes, the same kind of mistakes that Parker does, and for some of the same reasons. But he’s no Watson and neither is Parker. They are partners in the investigations. Sometimes junior partners, but partners and not tagalongs. One of the differences between Holmes and Watson and either Wolfe and Goodwin or Pentecost and Parker is that while Watson was not the bumbler that the Basil Rathbone movies made him out to be, he wasn’t a detective, either. The better portrayals give Watson his own areas of expertise, but they are explicitly not the same areas as Holmes. With Parker, and Goodwin before her, the expertise is in the same area as their more famous, experienced and older partner. They operate in a different style, but in the same sphere.

No matter how much impostor syndrome Will Parker suffers from along the way.

As much as I loved Fortune Favors the Dead for its detectives’ resemblance to Wolfe and Goodwin, that’s not a reason to read this book – or, for that matter, to go back to the classic. I doubt that the Wolfe stories have worn well into the 21st century, but Pentecost and Parker certainly do.

That’s all to do with Will Parker’s voice. We’re in her head, reading her point-of-view, knowing what she knows – at least most of it – and becoming part of this world through her eyes. Parker is very much a detective of the hard-boiled school. She’d rather confront a suspect than patiently work through research – not that she isn’t good at both. But her penchant for action rather than contemplation gets her into trouble more than once in this story.

It’s also Parker’s voice that makes the circumstances palatable for 21st century readers. On the one hand, she’s forced to deal with all of the restrictions imposed on her gender and class, and on the other, she’s more than intelligent enough to be aware that they are stupid and work around them. In her head she mouths off to everyone, and that perspective brings her to life in a way that we can identify with.

At the same time, the case itself smacks of the “old school” of the classic era. It’s murder and suicide among the rich and upper crust, the servants are the first suspects and the men always think that they are the ones in charge.

But they never are.

In the end, the heart of the case is a lover’s triangle, blackmail, and follow the money, just not in ways that the classics of the detective era would ever have dealt with. And all of it is marvelous. Even the admittedly clichéd operator from the shadows who is set up to be a long-running nemesis.

Fortune Favors the Dead reads like the terrific opening act of a potential series. I sincerely hope so!
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Fortune Favors the Dead, is light, humorous and witty. Spotswood has crafted a mystery, centered around two unusual women.  One, an older woman afflicted with MS and the other a young woman who ran away from home to join the circus.  They embark on solving a most difficult crime involving a clairvoyant.  Brought into this noir mix is the typical police detective and various other criminals. This is a very pleasurable read!
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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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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC.

FORTUNE FAVORS THE DEAD was a bit of a mixed bag.  I really enjoyed getting to know the characters, but I was bored with the mystery.  Since this is Spotswood's debut novel, I'll cut him some slack in the plot department and hope the series picks up from here.

Will Parker wants to be a tough and gritty gumshoe.  When the preeminent female detective in New York crosses paths with her, Will's talent and potential are rewarded with a job offer.  Will leaves her past as a circus roadie behind to learn the private eye ropes from Lillian Pentecost. 

As I mentioned, I'm a fan of both Parker and Pentecost.  Spotswood has thrown a bit of diversity and feminism into a traditionally good-ole-boy genre.  He's certainly not the first to do so, but his take is refreshingly original.  Parker is bisexual (although she doesn't label herself) and Pentecost is chronically ill.  Plus, they are operating a woman-owned business in a dangerous, male-dominated industry in 1945.

Parker, our narrator, is easy to root for.  She makes plenty of mistakes and owns up to them (mostly).  She doesn't shy away from danger.  She is fiercely loyal to Lillian.  And she has a big heart with a soft-spot for battered women.  We only see Pentecost through Parker's eyes, which makes it easy to love her as well.  Pentecost's illness is ever-present, but so is her spine of steel.  I look forward to learning more about Pentecost in future books in this series.

The let-down for me was the plot.  About halfway through the book, I had already predicted 75% of the ending.  There were a few bits that I didn't foresee, but overall, I was not surprised by the identity of the murderer or the motive for the crime. 

While the plot was lackluster, it did give the reader a chance to get to know the two leading ladies a bit.  Let's hope Spotswood's follow-up in the series has a bit more bite.  I give FORTUNE 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.
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Fortune Favors the Dead is a fun, well-paced mystery that will keep readers engaged through the end.  The plot threads left dangling at the end are intriguing and I'd definitely read more in this universe.
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Completely tempted by the cover, I dove into Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood and met a new female detective that I hope I will meet again in future novels.  Willowjean Parker has just run away from circus life and used her knife throwing skills to save New York PI Lillian Pentecost, an unorthodox but quite successful detective with MS.  Lillian takes “Will” under her wing, mentoring her so she can help keep up with the caseload.  Fast forward three years, and this dynamic duo is investigating the murder of Abigail Collins, wife of the deceased steel magnate.  Add a seductive spiritualist, a crush on the daughter of the murder victim, and we have a story!  
I felt like I was reading an old master, or was tucked into a 1940s noir film.  This book was deliciously atmospheric, the detective duo admirably bold for 1940s women, and the mystery well crafted.  Despite my efforts to compare Fortune Favors the Dead to an Agatha Christie mystery, a Sherlock Holmes enigma, or even Phryne Fisher’s suspenseful conundrums, Parker and Pentecost really are an original duo.  I can hardly wait for their next mystery!
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A great debut novel for 40’s noir mystery fans. Two wise cracking, smart, funny female private detectives try solving the case Involving a murdered heiress, a shifty medium  and other assorted characters. Smart, witty and altogether charming.
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I came into this book with zero expectations as to what it contained, and I'm glad I did because it blew me away. 
The best and fastest (but still insufficient) way to describe it is as a female Sherlock Holmes' story as told by the female equivalent of Watson. We have Ms. Lillian Pentecost, a genius private detective in New York in the last years of WWII in place of Holmes, and Willowjean "Will" Parker, a girl who ran away with the circus and has many skills in place of Watson. They meet under unusual circumstances but Will ends up leaving the circus to work and learn from Ms. P.
Those are the basic elements, but the main plot is about an upper echelon NYC family going through tough times after the suspicious deaths of both the patriarch and the matriarch.
It's a great gumshoe story with many twists and turns, but it's the smaller human details that help it stand out. It contains so many surprising and well-placed revelations that are both perfect for the era and perfect for the modern reader.
I'm definitely looking forward to whatever Spotswood brings next.

Many happy thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for the early read!
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This is a well-crafted mystery written in the style of the Sam Spade detective novels. Taking place during World War II, it is the first in a series introducing strong female detectives in a  New York City private investigation firm. Not only will the readers get a mystery with clues the careful reader will pull out form the story, but it also gives a feel for New York City life during the 1940’s.
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For mystery readers looking for something that's traditional but with a difference, this is a great choice. Two female detectives in post WWII era setting. Great characters and clever plot will keep you reading!
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Willowjean “Will” Parker is a jack-of-all-trades circus runaway who’s making a little extra money by serving as a night guard at a construction site.  One night, an encounter with an  unusual intruder ends with Will saving the woman’s life, thrusting Will onto a path she never would’ve expected.  The woman is Lillian Pentecost, New York City’s most elegant and most extraordinary private investigator, and she’s in need of an assistant.  Lillian suffers from multiple sclerosis, and she needs Will to help her keep up with her case load.  What follows for Will is a whirlwind education in all things sleuthing that, three years later, leads to she and Lillian investigating the seemingly impossible murder of a society matron at her own Halloween party.  The pair must follow the clues and find the killer while dealing with continuing illness, escalating threats, and a self-proclaimed spiritualist who knows more than she’s saying.  Fortune Favors the Dead is an action-packed, cleverly-crafted murder mystery starring two brilliant, self-reliant women.

The novel’s main feature is the murder mystery, and Spotswood has done a wonderful job of creating an intriguing locked-room mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very end.  While some of the clues fall easily into Lillian and Will’s laps, others take some clever detective work, and both women are more than capable of using their unique skillsets to get answers.  The urgency of the case—will the murderer strike again?—keeps the plot moving at a fairly quick pace, but there plenty of slow, more reflective moments that give balance to the story by placing more focus on the characters themselves 

Many of these slower moments focus on the relationship between Lillian and Will.  Although her mind is capable of incredible calculations and deductions, Lillian’s body is slowly deteriorating.  Her multiple sclerosis has only grown more severe in the years since she hired Will, and Will has become comfortable with and capable of taking charge when Lillian is having a bad day.  These opportunities allow Will to act more as the detective herself rather than serving as a sidekick.  Will’s years in the circus have given her a number of interesting skills of which she makes good use to hunt down clues and suspects.  Capable of knife throwing, sleight of hand, and fisticuffs, Will would typically be seen as the brawn of the duo—which isn’t an incorrect assumption—but she also possesses a keen intellect, good instincts, and the natural ability to blend in, making her a worthy detective in her own right.  Lillian is perfectly happy to allow Will to lead the case when Lillian herself is incapacitated, and the easy switching of roles reveals the level of comfort between the two.  Their relationship is more than just partners or caretaker and patient; they’re truly friends, and Spotswood does a great job of showing how much they care for one another in the quieter scenes between the two.

Spotswood also does a fantastic job of writing strong female characters.  In addition to Lillian and Will, the story’s two leads, there are complex, independent women in almost every other role: by-standers, victim, love interest, and suspects.  Set in New York City in the mid-1940s, the story reflects the changing role of women in society as well as the level of freedom and exhilaration found throughout the country following World War II.  The novel’s female characters make the most of these changing times, not caring how they’re seen by others as long as they’re being true to themselves.  Such choices are not without danger—Will, in particular, finds herself in serious trouble after a date with another woman—but the willingness of the characters to forge their own paths regardless of society’s rules is indicative of both their inner strength and their willingness to take advantage of the new normal.  Interestingly, the end of the story reveals one female character to be much more than she was seen to be, creating a Moriarty-like mastermind who will surely make an appearance in future books in the series and continue this trend of strong females in all parts of the story.

Fortune Favors the Dead is a fast-paced, smart murder mystery with a focus on women using their abilities to make a difference in the world.  The friendship between Lillian and Will shines true, and their combined detective skills keep the plot moving while also providing moments of astounding deduction that are the hallmark of any good mystery story.  The conversational storytelling style is easy to read and allows Will to tell her own story in addition to the story of the case, matching the well-known sidekick-as-narrator trope used by Dr. John Watson in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.  Spotswood has produced a wonderful debut that will appeal to fans of detective fiction as well as readers looking for story featuring a dynamic female duo.
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This is the first in a proposed new mystery series that defines further genre identification. It has a strong female protagonist, and indeed some issues regarding equality for women running through it. It is also written in the hard-boiled style in terms of some of its sentence structure combined with some of the action that would find itself at home in many hardboiled novels. On the other hand, it has little violence and no typical “gun moll” or distressed female beauty seeking the help of a down on his luck but strong masculine detective.

Rather, the head of this detective agency is the very competent, very successful, Lillian Pentecost. While she is the head of the agency, the book is narrated by Willojean Parker, a young woman who has been brought up in the circus and who has been offered the opportunity of a lifetime; namely to work and apprentice with Pentecost, one of the premier investigators of the period. Pentecost needs Parker as she has MS which is slowly progressing and robbing her of some of her physical strength and ability. Together they create a formidable team with Pentecost teaching Parker the ins and outs of detective work, and Parker using the survival skills she learned growing up in a traveling carnival to enhance her skills in this new to her world.

The atmosphere of the book is skillfully drawn so the reader gets an in-depth flavor of the time period without feeling as if they are reading a history book. There is some humor here, enough to lighten the book and help move it along without being over-the-top. There are also just enough hints of violence to remind the reader that detective work can be dangerous while the book remains largely gore free. The reader can supply as much or as little with their own imagination when action becomes paramount.

The primary mystery is well crafted with all the clues laid out for the reader if they put them together in the right order. The solution is logical and satisfying without being tied up in one neat, shiny package. There are also minor mysteries that reach logical conclusions, at least one of which the reader may be unaware of having been a mystery. The result is a delightfully complex book with well-written characters that will leave most readers hoping this is, indeed, the beginning of a new series.

This is a book I could recommend to anyone who enjoys a well-crafted and well-paced mystery. My thanks to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced digital copy. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own. The book is scheduled to be published on October 27, 2020; so you’ve got just enough time to order a copy from your local bookseller or get on the waiting list at your library.
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This offbeat World War II era mystery was a pleasant surprise. It's not often you run across as original a narrative voice as Willowjean Parker, the chronicler of this tale.

Willowjean, who dresses in overalls and goes by Will, has had a checkered history. Her mom died young and she left home early to get away from an alcoholic father.  She actually did run away with the circus, and picked up a host of unusual skills aided by her fierce intelligence, her don't tread on me attitude, and a surprisingly warm and loyal heart.

She meets her future employer, famed female detective Lillian Pentecost, while working as a rent a cop on a building site. And then the action begins. After a little incident, and one dead body, Lillian takes on Will as her assistant.

There is a little Sherlock and Watson, a little Nero and Archie, and a dash of noir, but this pair is ultimately not much like anyone else. Pentecost is formidable and scary smart. She also has multiple sclerosis and is clear-eyed about what her future holds. She needs someone to train for the day she can no longer carry on.

The mystery itself involves a family beset by drama: a father's suicide, followed by a mother's murder. There is a family business, a pair of grown children, their godfather, and a connection through their late mother to Ariel Belestrade, a medium and conduit to the spirit world. Not to mention a shadowy unknown figure dispensing justice outside the law.

Great characterizations, a nicely paced story, and some clever plotting made this quite an enjoyable read. Thanks to the publisher and to Net Galley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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