A review by tamarant4
Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

adventurous mysterious tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


This city’s full of monsters, thieves, and assholes. And that’s just City Hall.” [loc. 3789]
First in a series of murder mysteries set in 1940s New York. Willowjean ('Will') Parker ran away to the circus as a teenager, and has accumulated a host of useful skills including lock-picking, highwire-walking and knife-throwing. The latter of these brings her to the attention of Ms Lillian Pentecost, 'the most famous woman detective in the city and possibly the country'. Ms P, as Will calls her, suffers from multiple sclerosis, and would like an assistant to aid in situations where her 'physical limitations' prove inconvenient. Will would like a roof over her head, worthwhile employment, and considerable freedom to live as she chooses.
Fortune Favours the Dead is an account of a classic locked-room murder. Socialite Abigail Collins was murdered at a Halloween party she was hosting: the murder weapon was a crystal ball, and Abigail was alone in the room after a seance in which fashionable spiritualist Ariel Belestrade apparently channelled the spirit of Abigail's husband, who'd committed suicide a year before. While investigating the crime, Will (who's bisexual) strikes up a relationship with the daughter of the murdered woman. Ms P is more interested in Ariel Belestrade, and how she works her con...
I like the way Will and Ms P complement one another: they're a detective duo comparable with Holmes and Watson, Wolfe and Archie, et cetera. And I like the way the novel handles queerness (Will's and Becca's, as well as a couple of other characters. ('Ms. Pentecost had never shown a romantic interest in anyone, man or woman.') There were a couple of ... not quite anachronisms, but details that I think people in 1945 would have reacted to with more surprise: Ms P's 'Ms', which indeed was in parlance, though it didn't come into general use until the 1970s; and a woman not drinking champagne at the party, thus revealing to Belestrade that she's pregnant). I don't think alcohol avoidance in pregnancy was common practice: see A Brief History of Awareness of the Link Between Alcohol and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
But overall, great fun, and I liked the two protagonists very much: Will's pulp-inflected narration and Ms P's composure and dignity contrast very nicely. I'll probably read more in this series.
Fulfils the ‘locked room mystery’ rubric of the 52 books in 2024 challenge.