Cover Image: Secret Lives

Secret Lives

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Member Reviews

What can be better than a 75 year old secret agent who’s underestimated skills and past connections help  her resolve a cryptocurrency case.
   Ethel Crestwater, much like another “mild mannered” hero, is a housemother to federal agents and a distant nephew who all reside in her boarding house. 
   When one of her boarders is murdered in her front yard Ethel jumps into action, despite being retired from the government for many years. The fact that the murder victim mentions her name in his dying breath makes it all the more personal.
   The boarders, who are from various government agencies, never quite communicate with each other or trust each other to work as a unit to find out who is responsible for this death. That may be because THEY had something to do with it.
   The reader may get a bit lost in the cryptocurrency storyline but Ethel will keep you engaged with all her past connections, her instincts, fearlessness and commitment to justice……..she’s a delightful character.
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Secret Lives by Mark de Castrique is an intriguing combination of political suspense, cryptocurrency thriller and cozy mystery. It's a hard needle to thread, but de Crastique and his delightful lead, Ethel Crestwater, deliver. I'm hoping for more books about Ethel and her boarders.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It was a light read and a whodunit caper.  I love books where the main character defies the expectations and that is exactly what Ethel did.  The story was amusing and was just a pleasant mystery.  The addition of her twice-removed cousin, Jesse, helped to expand the appeal to a larger audience.  If you need a great palate cleanse of just a fun mystery, I recommend this book.  It will make you smile.
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This is a fun romp and a reminder to not ignore little old ladies! Ethel runs a boarding house for all sorts of G-men, but they're not the only ones with skills. I enjoyed this immensely, and I'm going to add other titles by Mark de Castrique to my to-be-read list.

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for access to a digital ARC on NetGalley.
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Secret Lives is the first book I've read that was written by Mark de Castrique and I was pleasantly surprised. The story grabbed my attention from the beginning, it has a great plot, the main character is a septuagenarian anyone would like to be, there's deceit and lies, but also there's gentleness and respect, and although a lot of details regarding locations and places are given, they are written in a pleasant way. It's an easy-read and 100% great entertainment!
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I so hope that this continues as a series as I loved the characters and the story. Seventy-five-year-old Ethel Fiona Crestwater, former FBI Agent, has retired, well, not really. She has a long history with the FBI, beginning as a finger print technician when J. Edgar Hoover was still in charge. Now, she rents rooms in her home to current agents and can’t help getting involved (or almost taking over) current investigations. Her second cousin twice removed, Jesse Cooper, is living with her as he completes his university studies. When one of her boarders is murdered, she goes behind the scenes (well really in front of the scenes) to investigate. She has the direct numbers to the head of the Secret Service as well as the FBI, both of whom once rented rooms in her home. When Jesse is attacked, the search really does become personal and she calls in her friends and contacts to solve the murder and Jesse’s attack. A fast paced, intriguing mystery with a dash of humor and a side of cryptocurrency. I received an advance review copy at no cost and without obligation for an honest review. (paytonpuppy)
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PUBLICATION DAY: October 11, 2022

A boarding house in Washington, D.C. is run by a sweet old lady called Ethel. But this boarding house is no ordinary place, and Ethel is not a sweet old lady. She houses FBI, CIA, and Secret Service agents, and she has government connections unlike any other. When one of her boarders is killed right outside, Ethel and her cousin (double cousin, twice removed, to be clear) have to work the case secretly to make sure that justice prevails and she can keep her "family" safe. 

This was a great read! It was funny, but not at the expense of the older main character. Rather, society's expectations of what an elderly woman is capable of are quickly shredded and handed back to the reader. Ethel and her cousin make a great team--she's the seasoned pro, he's the slightly naïve youngster.  It read very much like a literary cozy mystery, if that makes sense, if a bit on the gory side. I recommend this for anyone who enjoys a touch of wry humor with their murder mystery.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me an advanced reader copy to review!
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Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

PUBLICATION DAY: October 11, 2022

Sweet, elderly Ethel runs a boarding house in Washington DC.  But it’s not just any boarding house, and Ethel’s not just any landlady.  Housing FBI agents, secret service agents and more for the past decades has caused her to gain many handy skills - skills she will need to draw upon in order to solve the latest murder that is affecting not only her, but her cousin (actually double cousin - twice removed) as well.  When family is involved, Ethel will stop at nothing to keep them both safe.

Why have I never heard of this author??  He’s great!  I loved Ethel and Jesse and their investigation into the case and possible conspiracy was well plotted and full of surprises.  There were a lot of names and titles to keep track of, and for me it was the only downside of this cosy mystery.  I can’t wait to read another by this author!

If you’re looking for…a light mystery with a touch of intrigue, this one is for you!

4 Stars

I thought I had sent this previously, but showed up on my shelf again - so re-sending...thank you!
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✨“𝙄 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙟𝙪𝙨𝙩 𝙨𝙩𝙪𝙗𝙗𝙤𝙧𝙣 𝙚𝙣𝙤𝙪𝙜𝙝 𝙩𝙤 𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙢𝙮 𝙜𝙧𝙤𝙪𝙣𝙙. 𝘼𝙣𝙙 𝙬𝙝𝙚𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙗𝙤𝙮𝙨 𝙜𝙖𝙫𝙚 𝙖𝙣 𝙞𝙣𝙘𝙝, 𝙄 𝙩𝙤𝙤𝙠 𝙖 𝙢𝙞𝙡𝙚."✨

Secret Lives follows 75-years-old Ethel Crestwater who runs a boarding house for government agents. When one of the boarders is murdered and her distant cousin assaulted in her house, she decides to take things into her own hands. Ethel along with Jesse, her double-first-cousin-twice-removed, embarks on the journey of truth and justice, only to find that everyone around her has something to hide... as if they are living secret lives..

𝗠𝘆 𝗧𝗵𝗼𝘂𝗴𝗵𝘁𝘀.
This was an incredible read, a murder mystery that took me on an adventure. It was more like watching a detective show but with an older, female and equally badass protagonist..

The plot was veryy interesting and woven around cryptocurrency, murder, desperation and greed. There was never a dull moment in the plot and I thought there would be only two POVs - Ethel's and Jesse's.. but there were so many characters involved and we look through each of their POVs connecting the plot in the most captivating way.

The 'double-first-cousin-twice-removed' concept was something I had noo idea about.. from this book I got to learn about such a relationship😂 The humour around it was well done initially but frequent use made it lose its charm.

The mystery aspect was interesting and there were twists and turns but they failed to be thrilling. Not that this made me feel like not reading more, but I just wanted that thrill connected with the mystery, that this book lacked.

𝗔𝗯𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗖𝗵𝗮𝗿𝗮𝗰𝘁𝗲𝗿𝘀.
Ethel Crestwater, the female protagonist was such a badass.. From being the mastermind in solving the murder mystery to flying planes and picking locks by herself, she has done all. I loved the way how her past life was introduced and how she made her way up when women were not given any chances to grow. An inspiring character for sure!

Jesse's character didn't have much depth and so there's not much of a connection with him. There were other characters interlinked in the story but only Detective Mancini stood out among them, a good and trustworthy detective who knew Ethel and supported her throughout the plot. 

But, all my heart goes to Davie🥺🥺 This kid deserves all the love and happiness in the world!!

Overall, Secret Lives was an incredible murder mystery book filled with conspiracy, heartwarming relationships and humour-filled moments. The thrill factor was very low but it didn't hinder my reading. I was fully immersed in the plot and enjoyed the technicalities of the investigation.

𝘛𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘬𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘕𝘦𝘵𝘎𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘺, 𝘔𝘢𝘳𝘬 𝘥𝘦 𝘊𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘳𝘪𝘲𝘶𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘗𝘰𝘪𝘴𝘰𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘗𝘦𝘯 𝘗𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘦-𝘢𝘳𝘤 𝘪𝘯 𝘦𝘹𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘢𝘯 𝘩𝘰𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘵 𝘳𝘦𝘷𝘪𝘦𝘸.
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Jesse Cooper is your average computer science student at American University. Perhaps the most unusual thing about him is that he lives with his double-first-cousin twice-removed, the redoubtable Ethel Crestwater. Now in her seventies, Ethel essentially runs a boarding house for federal agents and other law enforcement officers in her Arlington, Virginia home. Since Jesse is the only family she has left, she’s more than happy to have him stay with her while he works on his postgraduate degree.

One night while Skyping with his girlfriend in London, Jesse hears shots from right outside the house. He runs downstairs to find one of his housemates, Secret Service Agent Jonathan Finch, bleeding out in the road. Ethel was woken by the noise as well, and quickly takes charge of the situation, after their attempts at staunching the bleeding come to naught:

“Jesse, we don’t have much time.” Ethel used a dry corner of her robe to wipe the blood off her phone. “I want you to observe everything you can.” She activated the phone’s light and video app and then ran it up and down Jonathan Finch’s body.

Jesse stared wide-eyed, having trouble pulling his gaze from the elderly woman to the target of her recording.

“Come on. I want an extra set of eyes. I don’t depend upon technology.”

While Jesse knew that Ethel had once been an FBI agent herself, he’d hardly expected to ever see her put her formidable skillset to work. But being a smart man, he does as instructed, even as he worries that her efforts are technically obstructing justice, given what she asks him to do next. Thing is, Ethel knows pretty much from her first glance at the crime scene that Jonathan’s death isn’t a random crime to be solved by the local police department. The Secret Service will likely want to be actively involved, especially after Ethel discovers hints of corruption leading back into the agency.

One of the men responsible for the shooting is, indeed, a former colleague of Jonathan’s. Trevor Norwood is not happy that what should have been a slick, bloodless robbery had gone sideways so quickly. But that isn’t the only surprise in store for him, when he gets into the laptop he stole in order to cover his tracks and makes a startling discovery about Jonathan's resources:

Norwood stared in disbelief. The pain in his arm and the incriminating gym bag of counterfeit currency were momentarily forgotten. The coins in that second [cryptocurrency] wallet had a current value of more than twenty million dollars. Where did a Secret Service agent get that kind of money? If the private key was on Finch’s laptop, Norwood would find it. [...] For all the crap that had gone down that morning, twenty million dollars would more than make up for it. Norwood faced a hard decision. Did he keep this knowledge to himself or did he bring in the others? One thing he knew for sure. If he didn’t bring them in and they found out, Trevor Norwood would be as dead as Jonathan Finch.

As Norwood sweats over what to do, Ethel and Jesse team up to not only track down him and his accomplices but also to outwit the various forces trying to keep an eye on their investigations. Ethel has lots of contacts in law enforcement due both to her prior work history and to her ownership of the boarding house. Trouble is, she fears that one or more of those contacts may be involved in the conspiracy that ended up killing poor Jonathan. The only person she knows she can absolutely trust is Jesse, as they seek to uncover the truth and find justice not only for Jonathan but the widow and child he left behind.

This was a very of-the-moment thriller, featuring an elderly detective and her younger sidekick grappling not only with interagency shenanigans but also the very modern complications brought about by the rise of cryptocurrency. It’s so much fun to follow along as Ethel outwits the many people trying to claim the money for themselves, even as I, like Jesse, constantly worried at how her fearlessness occasionally crossed the line into recklessness. As a resident of the DC-Metro area (and someone who used to live and work on Wilson Blvd.,) I was also greatly pleased by the attention to detail, and hope this is only the first in a series featuring both my former stomping grounds and this entertaining intergenerational detecting duo.
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The book started out promising, but eventually got so bogged down in cryptocurrency that I quickly lost interested and had to skim the last 25%. I just didn’t enjoy the story or characters
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SECRET LIVES is a fast-paced spy thriller perfect for those with a sense of humor.

Seventy-five year old Ethel Fiona Clearwater runs a boarding house for government agents. When one of her Secret Service boarders is fatally shot outside the house, Ethel—herself an FBI legend from the Hover era—jumps on the case. Despite a co-investigation by the Secret Service, FBI, and local police, Ethel persists, enlisting the help of her distant cousin, a college student named Jesse. A multi-million dollar cryptocurrency scheme is unveiled, and no government agent can be trusted.

Y’all, if you have any interest in espionage-themed mysteries (heck, even if you don’t), you NEED to pick this up. It had me hooked from chapter one. The story moves quickly thanks to no-frills writing and plenty of dialogue, and there was plenty of lighthearted humor to keep me sated.

Ethel is the star of the show. She’s ambitious, unpredictable, whip-smart, and just dishonest enough to keep things interesting. Also, she does RBG-inspired workouts in her basement. How great is that?

Keeping my fingers crossed there will be a sequel! 🤓

Thank you to NetGalley & Poisoned Pen Press for this eARC in exchange for my honest review.
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Cryptocurrency.  Beretta.  Secret Service.  Murder.  Seventy-five-year-old investigator.  Incongruous?  Maybe, but it certainly works!  Ethel Fiona Crestwater is an aging unmarried woman who operates a boarding  house, a potential convenient ruse for her to exercise her prowess, mental acuity and power of observation, especially when murder comes knocking.  Appearances can be deceiving.  Her canes?  Pfuft.  Not only for mobility,  Her life experiences and wisdom richly complement her tech savvy investigative partner and distant relative, Jesse, who is a university student living under her roof.  

Murder happens early in the story and the pace continues from there, snappy and quick.  Police officers and detectives do not hold a candle to Ethel, though they try.  Red herrings and are sprinkled here and there.  Though the mystery itself is enthralling, the characters and wit are what captivated me most.

Those who seek a mystery story with an older protagonist, do add this to your to be read pile.  Well worth it.  Author Mark de Castrique notes that though Secret Lives is fiction the cryptocurrency details are based on fact.

My sincere thank you to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for the privilege of enjoying this cheery murder book!
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Secret Lives is a wonderful story featuring a 75-year-old woman, Ethel Fiona Crestwater. She is more than the eye can see as she changes what she really is, to what she needs them to see. She runs a boarding house for agents that need a layover between assignments. She is sharper and smarter than most agents, strong-willed as well as clever. The story begins with one of her boarders being murdered outside her boarding house and a duffle bag of counterfeit money goes missing.

Ethel and Jesse, her “double-first-cousin-twice-removed” join forces with her own unofficial investigation. Jesse watches shocked and amazed by Ethel as she makes phone calls to important people and gets what she is after in order to find out what happened in front of her house.

I was immediately involved with the story from the very beginning. I’ve never read a book about cryptocurrency, and KryptoFolds, in as much detail as this one. There are lots of entertaining remarks that had me laughing, I was totally entertained. I sincerely hope that there are more books to come for a series. Reading about what is considered an elderly woman running circles around the FBI, the Secret Service, and the local police was highly entertaining, and richly rewarding for readers.
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Thank you to the author, Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I was not familiar with this author, but the premise sounded intriguing and the cover is fantastic. Bonus: The story is clever and twisty, with many unexpected turns and characters that will make you want to keep reading to find out more. Although cryptocurrency is a mystery to me, I loved the 75-year old protagonist Ethel Fiona Crestwater, and how she managed to stay at least one step ahead of both the CIA and the FBI at all times. I hope there will be more stories featuring Ms. Crestwater and her nephew - not to mention the UFOs - United Flying Octogenarians.
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Mark de Castrique introduces a witty and brilliant female leading character that fans will adore—75-year-old landlord Ethel Fiona Crestwater. In his latest suspense thriller, SECRET LIVES, a retired FBI agent—a legend with all sorts of connections to the Secret Service and FBI!

Intricately plotted a fast-paced murder mystery with an engaging cast of characters filled with humor and a tenacious unstoppable heroine.

Ethel keeps things under wraps in her town of Arlington, VA, where she has a home and rents rooms to government agents called Ethel's dormitory.

Except for Jesse Cooper, her double first cousin twice removed, who is staying with her while attending the American University in Washington, DC. He has no clue about the skills of his elderly cousin, but he will soon find out, firsthand!

She has some famous boarders like the head of the Secret Service (Cory) and Arlington police detective (Frank), to name a few.

When one tenant Jonathan Finch (SS agent), is shot in front of her house, Ethel steps in and is in full action. She must find his killer and the motive behind his death.

Finch had about ten thousand dollars of cryptocurrency left. An incriminating gym bag of counterfeit currency was momentarily forgotten. The coins in the second wallet had a current value of more than twenty million. Where did a Secret Service agent get that kind of money? Was the private key on Finch's laptop? Where was the key with the numbers?

Cryptocurrency and government corruption!

Ethel has the "mad skills" of someone much younger, so do not let the age fool you, but she enjoys playing the card of the elderly and helpless when necessary. She protects her roomers.

She has one goal. JUSTICE! If she has to bend a few rules along the way, so be it. Now she has her sidekick cousin to assist!

Lots of action, excitement, and danger; plus some personal relationships with sweet Davie, Jonathan's son, who has Osteogenesis Imperfecta - fragile bones and a pleasure meeting him and his mom. A nice tie-in here.

I LOVED ETHEL!!!! She is one tough cookie, and you want to be like her and have her watching out for you!

Fun, witty, clever, and twisty!

In addition, there is much to learn about Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies that are inaccessible to their owners because private keys have been lost, which I found fascinating. Quite the education.

Also, UFOs do exist—United Flying Octogenarians. Ethel is too young to be a member, but her friends' Pete and Curt are worthy examples of this elite group.

Highly entertaining, fans of Mark de Castrique and fans of author Janet Evanovich's upcoming Going Rogue (11/1) also about bitcoins— will enjoy this zany, wild ride! Hope we see more of Ethel in the future!

My first book by the author, and look forward to reading more!

A special thank you to #PoisonedPenPress and #NetGalley for a gifted eARC and print copy in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Review Posted @
@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks
Pub Date: Oct 11, 2022
My Rating: 5 Stars
Oct 2022 Must-Read Books
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There are more and more bad-ass elderly sleuths making their appearances in crime fiction, and I couldn't be more pleased. In Mark de Castrique's Secret Lives, readers make the acquaintance of my new favorite, Ethel Fiona Crestwater. Call this seventy-five-year-old a little old lady at your peril. At the age of eighteen, this woman tracked down her father's killer, and she's been going non-stop ever since. Her knowledge is wide-ranging and her contacts never-ending. She doesn't suffer fools, and those who know her know to stand back and let her do her thing.

Ethel's mantra is Integrity, Fairness, and Justice, and she's willing to bend a few rules to ensure those three things happen. How far will she bend rules? As she tells someone, "I'm so far off the books, I'm not even in the library." There's some laugh-out-loud humor in Secret Lives as Ethel and Jesse investigate-- like her response when a bad guy tells her to show her hands-- but you'll be happy to know that the story is every bit as interesting as its main character. I didn't know all that much about cryptocurrency when I began reading, but I feel a bit more comfortable with the subject now due to the skillful way de Castrique weaved the information into the story.

It was an absolute pleasure getting to know Ethel and Jesse in this series launch, and I'm certainly looking forward to their next case. More, please-- and quickly!
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We’re all used to the the smart but frail little old lady (a la Miss Marple/Jessica Fletcher) who just can’t help getting asked to investigate all the pesky murders in her area.  Ethel Crestwater turns this trope on its head: practically from the moment a murder occurs outside her door, this elderly boarding house landlady (who it turns out is a retired spy herself and landlady to a house full of federal agents) goes unapologetically into action mode, taking charge, checking the scene, and giving orders to Jesse, her astonished young visiting cousin-twice-removed.  Quickly heading back into the house acting like an old lady needing a rest from the shock, she actually secretly examines the victim’s room, discovering and moving his huge hidden stash of cash, and calls the bureau director personally.  From this moment, I was sold—and that was before Ethel is revealed to be a pilot, complete with a couple of awesome old-man pilot buddies.  Ethel and Jesse befriend the victim’s young special-needs son while chasing down clues and trying to figure out where all the cash came from.  Cue a tale of cryptocurrency, counterfeiting, and corruption.  It doesn’t have to be realistic to be a lot of fun.  This is an entertaining, light adventure worthy of an intergenerational buddy movie.  

Thanks to Netgalley and Poisoned Pen Press for a digital advance review copy.
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In her seventies, Ethel runs a boarding home for government agents. She appears to be a typical grandmother type. Until an agent is murdered in front of her boardinghouse. Her distant cousin begins to wonder when Ethel immediately takes charge.

The characters really make this story. I loved Ethel from the beginning and knew she would be the heart of the tale. The mystery itself was just hard for me to follow. I don’t know anything about crypto currency and was lost whenever they were discussing the schemes. If you have an interest or even just a basic understanding in that, then you’ll find this a fun read.

“When you’ve lived as long as I have, there are always things. The unexpected masquerading as something else. Even the unexpected can hide secrets, so I like to be sure of my footing. Not break my metaphorical hip.”

Secret Lives comes out 10/11.
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Secret Lives brings the skills of ex-Intelligence agent Ethel, now a rooming house landlady, back into the pilot's seat when one of her lodgers is killed outside her house. Jesse, her double cousin twice removed, is one of her only lodgers not in the Game, but as a computer science student, he sheds light on some complex maneuvers in the cryptocurrency world. Betrayals, hidden secrets, and ACTION  propel the story along and I can't wait to read the next installment.
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