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Reviews of Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

Fortune Favors the Dead

Pentecost and Parker #1

by Stephen Spotswood

Fortune Favors the Dead by  Stephen Spotswood X
Fortune Favors the Dead by  Stephen Spotswood
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2020, 336 pages

    Aug 2021, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jordan Lynch
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Book Summary

A wildly charming and fast-paced mystery written with all the panache of the hardboiled classics, Fortune Favors the Dead introduces Pentecost and Parker, an audacious new detective duo for the ages.

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 is to 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.


The first time I met Lillian Pentecost, I nearly caved her skull in with a piece of lead pipe.

I had scored a few shifts working guard duty at a building site on West Forty-second. A lot of the crew on Hart and Hal loway's Traveling Circus and Sideshow picked up gigs like that whenever we rolled into a big city. Late-night and off-day gigs where we could clock in after a performance and get paid cash on the barrel.

There were more jobs like that available in those years. A lot of the men who'd usually have taken them were overseas hoping for a shot at Hitler. When you're desperate to fill a post, even a twenty-year-old cirky girl starts to look good.

Not that it required much of a résumé. It was a knuckle head job. Walk the fenced-in perimeter from eleven until dawn and keep an eye out for anyone slipping through the fence. If anyone did, I was supposed to ring a bell and shout and make a ruckus to drive them away. If they refused, I ran and found a cop.

At ...

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The urgency of the case — will the murderer strike again? — keeps the plot moving at a fairly quick pace, but there are plenty of slower, more reflective moments that give balance to the story by placing focus on the characters themselves. In addition to Lillian and Will, there are complex, independent women in almost every other role: bystanders, victim, love interest and suspects. Set in New York City in the mid-1940s, the story reflects the changing position 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...continued

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(Reviewed by Jordan Lynch).

Media Reviews

BookPage (starred review)
Fortune Favors the Dead...has the hallmarks of an Agatha Christie mystery, and there’s a delightful dose of noir thrown in for the more hardcore pulp fiction crowd, too...It’s as mysterious and fun a caper as you will ever read, with plenty of misdirection and intrigue to keep you guessing. You don’t need a clairvoyant to realize this duo will be around for years to come.

A relentlessly entertaining romp through 1940’s New York City, and through the annals of mystery fiction, as well, with many sly nods to authors of the past and some invigorating reinventions of classic tropes and gambits...Spotswood’s style is swift and witty, and the mystery at the novel’s heart is a clever knot.

Shelf Awareness
Sparkles [with] wit and personality...Delightful...This mystery plot has all the twists and surprises a fan of the genre could ask for, but it is Will’s distinctive, captivating voice and background [that] is Spotswood’s real triumph...Gutsy Will, with her snappy, slangy narrative style, ultimately wins readers’ hearts and carries the day. This classic noir-style mystery recast with humor, female leads and superb style is both satisfying and great fun.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] stellar debut...The deep and sensitive characterization of the two protagonists, coupled with rich description and tonally spot-on humor, make this a novel to remember. Spotswood is definitely a writer to watch.

Kirkus Reviews
A sprightly period debut...Spotswood supplies scattershot period detail...mild wisecracks, an anticlimactic solution to that locked-room puzzle, and a Chinese box of denouements: If your chosen suspect isn't pronounced guilty, just wait a few pages. The most striking feature is the provocative gender-flipping of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

Library Journal
[A] light, breezy 'popcorn' book that will keep readers engaged from start to finish...This is a fun whodunit for high schoolers up through adults. It's easy to pick up and put down again, perfect for a cozy weekend read.

Author Blurb Alan Bradley, bestselling author of the Flavia de Luce Mystery Series
Bullets, blood, bodies, and belly-laughs: all the ingredients of a classic mystery novel. Stephen Spotswood hard-boils with the best of 'em!

Author Blurb Deanna Raybourn, author of the Veronica Speedwell Mysteries
Fortune Favors the Dead takes gritty 40s noir, shakes it up, gives it a charming twist, and serves it up with unforgettable style. My new favorite sleuthing duo are Pentecost and Parker, the spiritual sisters of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. An utterly brilliant debut!

Reader Reviews


Detective with a twist
I just finished reading this book and loved it. Wasn't quite sure what to expect. Women detectives - one who lived with a circus for many years - it was a little different and interesting. Would highly recommend it. I am looking forward to the ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Sidekick Character in Detective Fiction

Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes In Fortune Favors the Dead, being in the wrong place at the right time earns Will Parker the job of assistant to Lillian Pentecost, New York City's classiest and most unorthodox private investigator. Although Lillian's worsening multiple sclerosis is her initial motivation for hiring the younger woman, Will possesses a keen eye and a unique skillset that make her the perfect partner for the lady detective. As the two work together to solve some of the city's strangest mysteries, they soon develop a classic detective-sidekick relationship.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn't invent detective stories — that honor belongs to Edgar Allen Poe, whose 1841 "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," featuring the famous C. Auguste Dupin, is generally ...

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