Willowjean Parker (who goes by Will) ran away from home at 15 to join the circus. She's working on the side, a security job at a construction site--the kind of job women get to do now that "the men who'd usually have taken them were overseas hoping for a shot at Hitler"--when she first meets Lillian Pentecost, the famous lady detective. A few clever deductions and a little knife-throwing skill later, and she finds herself in Ms. Pentecost's employ, apprentice to the aging lady detective. Stephen Spotswood's first novel, Fortune Favors the Dead, sparkles with the wit and personality of this bold, unconventional heroine. Will may revere her boss, but readers know that it's the intrepid younger woman who stars.
In Will's delightful first-person telling, peppered with vernacular asides, the major case she highlights is that of the Collins family: the patriarch dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, matriarch bludgeoned with a crystal ball following a séance--in a locked room--leaving twins Randolph and Rebecca to tease and manipulate their hired detectives, Ms. Pentecost and Will. The twins' godfather is now acting CEO of Collins Steelworks; his loyalties are unclear. And the medium and "spiritual advisor" whose crystal ball became a murder weapon is another wild card: she seems to have unusual power to intimidate Ms. Pentecost, which unnerves Will entirely.
This mystery plot has all the twists and surprises a fan of the genre could ask for, and Ms. Pentecost's expertise and no-nonsense attitude are appealing and entertaining, but gutsy Will, with her snappy, slangy narrative style, ultimately wins readers' hearts and carries the day. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia