by Stephen Spotswood
The most delightful part of this book is the characters: Lillian Pentecost, “New York City’s preeminent lady gumshoe,” and her trusty assistant Willowjean Parker.
Ms. Pentecost has a “steel trap of a mind” and never-back-down courage. She seeks justice, especially for the weak and powerless, and never lets her ego get in the way.
People reach out to Ms. Pentecost when the police can’t — or won’t — help right a wrong. She’s fine with letting cops like Lt. Nathan Lazenby, “one of the NYPD’s sharpest,” take the credit as long as the perps are punished.
The lady-like Ms. Pentecost has taken to carrying a light cane these days. While most take it as a fashion accessory, those closest to her know that she has multiple sclerosis that is getting worse.
And that is where Willowjean Parker comes in. Willowjean was working in a circus when she saved Ms. Pentecost’s life during a murder case. When Ms. Pentecost sprung Willowjean from jail, she offered her a job as her assistant.
In addition to her salary, Ms. Pentecost offered her considerable education benefits, ranging from secretarial training and a driver’s license to getting her own private investigator’s license and attending a variety of legal and psychological lectures. But the essence of Willowjean’s training — disguises, knife-throwing and prestidigitation — she had already picked up in the circus.
In short, I would follow these characters anywhere.
Unfortunately, author Stephen Spotswood’s plot isn’t as good as his characters. When Wallace Harrison, executor of the Collins estate, calls to request Ms. Pentecost’s help in solving the murder of socialite Abigail Collins, found bludgeoned to death by a crystal ball inside a locked room with a smoking fire during a Halloween party, Willowjean instantly recognizes this as an opportunity. Well-paying cases such as this help fund their pro bono efforts to help widows, orphans, battered wives and cheated employees.
From this point, things spin into chaos. Mrs. Collins’ husband, Alistair, had apparently committed suicide in the same room exactly a year earlier. Or was it murder? Medium and spiritual adviser Ariel Belestrade was part of the evening’s entertainment. Then she, too, turns up dead.
The Collins Steelworks and Manufacturing Co. is at a critical point in its existence now that World War II has ended. Who has the controlling interest? Harrison Wallace, who is also godfather to heirs and twins Rebecca and Randolph and acting CEO of the company, is accused of embezzlement.
The complications pile up like a freeway crash.
As much as I enjoyed Willowjean and Miss Pentecost, the plot twisted with too many strands for me to keep up with. The complications also made it hard to know whether secondary characters were good guys or bad guys — or whether you even care.
Ultimately, it felt like it was a foregone conclusion that Ms. Pentecost would find the murderer, but it was impossible to figure out who ahead of Miss Pentecost.
About the Author: Stephen Spotswood
Stephen Spotswood is a playwright, educator and journalist. He is an alumnus of The Welders playwrights’ collective.
As a journalist, he has spent much of the past 20 years writing about the aftermath of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the struggles of wounded veterans.
Spotswood earned a master’s degree in fine arts from Catholic University. He writes almost exclusively female protagonists.
He and his wife, young adult author Jessica Spotswood, live in Washington, DC, and have a precocious cat named Luna.