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Book Review: Fortune Favors the Dead, by Stephen Spotswood

I borrowed and audio copy of Stephen Spotswood’s Fortune Favors the Dead through Hoopla.

fortune favors the dead audio

Introducing Pentecost and Parker, two unconventional female detectives who couldn’t care less about playing by the rules, in their cases and in their lives.

It’s 1942 and Willowjean “Will” Parker is a scrappy circus runaway whose knife-throwing skills have just saved the life of New York’s best, and most unorthodox, private investigator, Lillian Pentecost. When the dapper detective summons Will a few days later, she doesn’t expect to be offered a life-changing proposition: Lillian’s multiple sclerosis means she can’t keep up with her old case load alone, so she wants to hire Will to be her right-hand woman. In return, Will will receive a salary, room and board, and training in Lillian’s very particular art of investigation.

Three years later, Will and Lillian are on the Collins case: Abigail Collins was found bludgeoned to death with a crystal ball following a big, boozy Halloween party at her home–her body slumped in the same chair where her steel magnate husband shot himself the year before. With rumors flying that Abigail was bumped off by the vengeful spirit of her husband (who else could have gotten inside the locked room?), the family has tasked the detectives with finding answers where the police have failed. But that’s easier said than done in a case that involves messages from the dead, a seductive spiritualist, and Becca Collins–the beautiful daughter of the deceased, who Will quickly starts falling for. When Will and Becca’s relationship dances beyond the professional, Will finds herself in dangerous territory, and discovers she may have become the murderer’s next target.

my review

I really quite enjoyed this. You’ve got quite a few sorts of women who don’t often get lead billing making decisions and effecting change. There’s the bisexual assistant private detective and POV character, the elderly lead detective with Multiple Sclerosis, the lesbian possible love interest, the impoverished woman taking charge of her life, the mousey professor who may be more than she seems, the talented scam artist, etc. Women not only exist in this novel, they excel (not always for the betterment of mankind, but they still refuse to sit back and passively exist). I adored that about it.

I wasn’t super shocked to discover who the murder turned out to be, but more in a ‘where is the eye not turned’ kind of way than a ‘the foreshadowing gave it away’ way. I had no “I know who it is moment,” so, I got to the pleasuring of not knowing, but also no shock of never seeing it coming because it’s too out of left field. It’s a good balance to end a mystery with, “Oh yeah, I can totally see that,” than either “I knew it” or “no way, you just made that up.”

The story’s narrator, Will, has a marvelous voice and sense of humor. The writing is sharp and the audiobook is well done. I’ll be looking for more of the Pentecost and Parker mysteries.

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Other Reviews:

Review: Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

Fortune Favours The Dead (2020) by Stephen Spotswood

Already Dead

Book Review of Already Dead (Joe Pitt #1), by Charlie Huston

I borrowed a copy of Already Dead, by Charlie Huston, from the local library.

Description from Goodreads:

Those stories you hear? The ones about things that only come out at night? Things that feed on blood, feed on us? Got news for you: they’re true. Only it’s not like the movies or old man Stoker’s storybook. It’s worse. Especially if you happen to be one of them. Just ask Joe Pitt. 

There’s a shambler on the loose. Some fool who got himself infected with a flesh-eating bacteria is lurching around, trying to munch on folks’ brains. Joe hates shamblers, but he’s still the one who has to deal with them. That’s just the kind of life he has. Except afterlife might be better word.

From the Battery to the Bronx, and from river to river, Manhattan is crawling with Vampyres. Joe is one of them, and he’s not happy about it. Yeah, he gets to be stronger and faster than you, and he’s tough as nails and hard to kill. But spending his nights trying to score a pint of blood to feed the Vyrus that’s eating at him isn’t his idea of a good time. And Joe doesn’t make it any easier on himself. Going his own way, refusing to ally with the Clans that run the undead underside of Manhattan–it ain’t easy. It’s worse once he gets mixed up with the Coalition–the city’s most powerful Clan–and finds himself searching for a poor little rich girl who’s gone missing in Alphabet City.

Now the Coalition and the girl’s high-society parents are breathing down his neck, anarchist Vampyres are pushing him around, and a crazy Vampyre cult is stalking him. No time to complain, though. Got to find that girl and kill that shambler before the whip comes down . . . and before the sun comes up.

Review:

Early on in this novel I thought it was going to be a total fail for me. I wasn’t certain of Joe’s voice to start with, and then the first female character was introduced. She was simply a bar patron, no one he even spoke to. But the way he ogled her, the way he referred to her only in terms of ‘the number,’ ‘the number in the dress,’ etc made me go, “Oh, it’s gonna be one of those books.” I resigned myself to a disappointing read. 

And while I think the representation of women in the book remained problematic, with one large exception, I really did end up liking the book. The exception is that the plot is based around rape. Several years ago, I started noting in reviews when a book includes rape as a plot device. I started doing this because it’s so problematically frequent in books. Since I started, I swear it feels like a full 2/3 of the books I review include it. Are there really so few other options out there to progress a plot? It’s not that I take issue with rape in books in general, I take issue with it being all pervasive and everywhere. So, I note it when I see it. And here, in Already Dead it’s not graphic, but it’s especially heinous, what he’s trying to stop. 

Outside of that, I liked Joe. I liked his smart mouth, his gruff attitude, his buried but real soft side. I liked the gritty representation of New York and the inclusion of quite a lot of diversity. Granted, being a dozen years old, the language in the book is sometime a little cringe-worthy, but time ages all things. All in all, I plan of continuing the series.

Book Review of A Bullet Apiece, by John Joseph Ryan

A Bullet ApieceI borrowed a copy of A Bullet Apiece, by John Joseph Ryan, from my local library. It should be noted or disclosed that Ryan apparently lives in my neighborhood. I have never actually met him, but I did once meet his wife and that is how I know about the book. So, hey there, if you’ve found this, surprise, I’m reading John’s novel.

Description from Goodreads:
All is not well in post-World War II St. Louis, and private eye Ed Darvis, a man pegged as liking justice too much, discovers there’s a fine line between solving a crime and being an accomplice.

Ed Darvis, a St. Louis private eye, is pegged as a man who “likes justice too much.” Maybe that’s why business is slow; turns out not everyone in St. Louis is looking for justice. Revenge, deceit, and a little profit-taking on the side are all too often the modus operandi of cops and criminals alike. But when a beautiful woman walks into his bland storefront agency on the seedy side of town and asks him to help find her kidnapped daughter, Darvis’s life heats up. He must use his wits to survive, jabbing and feinting with deadpan directness and cynical ease, and when that doesn’t work, delivering justice with the blunt end of his .38 revolver.

Review:
You know, I hadn’t realized it, but I don’t think I’d ever read a true Noir novel before this one. Oh, I knew what to expect. I’ve seen enough Noir movies to know what to expect, but somehow it hits you so much more strongly in writing. And this is important to note, because, though this is really quite well written, I found I couldn’t really like it.

It’s dark and gritty, which is usually just up my alley, but it’s also set in 1960 and full of just as much casual sexism (and racism) as you’d expect from the time period, not to mention having two separate horrific crimes both basically predicated on the victimization of women (which I’m just sick of in general, because it seems like 80% of the crimes in books are). And I think this is definitely a characteristic of the genre, rather than any poor choices of the author. But I got very tired of the exaggerated male gaze; every woman is described in reference to her attractiveness or the attractiveness of her parts. In fact, the main character’s attraction to a certain pair of legs starts the whole thing off. And it’s just exasperated by the classic men are heroes women are victims storyline(s). In the end, I just didn’t particularly like Darvis or his worldview.

There were things I did like. Again, I thought the writing was fun, especially if you like the Dragnet-like dialogue or the traditional ‘gumshoe.’ The descriptions of Saint Louis are vivid (I happen to live in the Lou) and I really appreciated that it’s diverse. Not all the hookers are women, for example. I didn’t figure out the mysteries, which is something I always appreciate and it’s a stand-alone book. Plus, and I know this is almost irrelevant, but I read the paperback version and I just liked the typeset and binding style of it.

So, though I learned a little something about myself and my genre preferences, I can’t really knock the book for falling outside my circle of love. If you’re the sort who enjoys Noir, I recommend picking this one up, because the only true faults I found are personal pet peeves, not quality issues. It seems very true to what I expected out of a Noir novel.