Created by Stephen Spotswood
All the hype I’ve seen (and golly there’s been a bunch!) surrounding playwright Spotwood’s terrific new mystery romp, Fortune Favors The Dead (2020), seems to namedrop Knives Out and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, but c’mon, man!
If you can’t spot the clear ties to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, you better have your orbs checked.
I mean, a cranky, oddball detective, living in a three-story brownstone in 1940s New York City, complete with a personal staff of other oddballs? Relying on a younger, strong-willed roustabout to do the legwork, and provide a little muscle (and first person narration) when required?
Need a pencil?
Okay, so the Nero in this case is LILLIAN PRESCOTT, “the most famous woman detective in the city and possibly the country,” a spry and demanding forty-something fighting multiple sclerosis, who favors expensive suits and leaves no nit unpicked.
Meanwhile, Archie’s gumshoes are more than adequately filled by WILLOWJEAN PARKER (“Everyone calls me Will”), a boyish young woman whose hardscrabble childhood, including a stint with a traveling circus, have left this former “cirky girl” with a more-than-particular skill set (knife-throwing, dancing, mimicry, lock-picking, pickpocketing, etc.). Oh, and since this book was written in 2020, and not 1945, Will is a lesbian.
Which is actually kinda cool, and handled just right. In fact, the period details are spot on—even Will’s wisecracks and similes are era-appropriate—and often quite funny. Meanwhile, the breezy, colourful plot, narrated by Will like she’s channeling her beloved detective pulps, just zips along like a over-caffeinated game of Clue, and includes Will and Lillian’s “meet-cute” origin story and Will’s subsequent introduction and indoctrination into the Pentecost household and business, as secretary, researcher and heir-apparent, as well as one crackerjack “honest-to-God locked-room mystery,” complete with a murdered millionaire, a ghost as a suspect, a shady spiritualist, warring heirs, some post-war corporate shenanigans and a well-meaning “uncle.”
As for Will and Lill? I want to see more of these two.
I’M JUST SAYING…
- I really liked Fortune Favors the Dead, but it does trip over its good intentions at one point. That’s the elephant-sized anachronism of Will constantly referring to her boss as Ms Pentecost, in dialogue and narration, with nobody even batting an eye.
Forget how “progressive” these two women are (and they are, delightfully so)—every time I read it, the “Ms” drops like an iron bar on a concrete floor.
- “Spotswood’s style is swift and witty, and the mystery at the novel’s heart is a clever knot.”
— Dwyer Murphy (October 2020, CrimeReads)
- “Bullets, blood, bodies, and belly-laughs: all the ingredients of a classic mystery novel. Stephen Spotswood hard-boils with the best of ‘em!”
— Alan Bradley
- In the Shadow of the Wolfe
Variations on a Theme, Originally Composed by Rex Stout