Friday Book Whimsy: Murder Under Her Skin

Murder Under Her Skin by Stephen Spotswood is the second in what now can officially be called a series. Featuring former circus worker Willowjean (Will) Parker and her boss, famed detective Lillian Pentecost, the stories take place in post World War II America.

Will’s friend and former circus co-worker Ruby Donner is found murdered, stabbed to death with the a knife belonging to Valentin Kalishenko, the circus’s extraordinary knife thrower. It doesn’t take long before the police arrest Kalishenko since he seems to be the obvious choice.

When Will hears about the troubles at her former place of employment, she and Lillian make their way to the Virginia town currently sponsoring the circus. She is certain that Valentin is innocent and determined to learn the truth. While she is welcomed heartily by all her circus friends, it isn’t long before she starts suspecting that not everyone — in fact is anyone? — telling the truth. Everyone seems to have something to hide.

What’s more, the townspeople also seem suspicious of the two outsiders who are butting into police business, despite the fact that the small police department seems unable to get past their certainty of Valentin’s guilt.

These books are fun to read. Will is an upbeat wisecracking narrator. Her love for her boss Lillian is touching. The author creates the atmosphere of a Dashiell Hammett novel, but with clever twists and turns along the way.

These novels make me want to chew gum! Highly recommend.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Fortune Favors the Dead

With Fortune Favors the Dead, Stephen Spotswood may have given readers the best hardboiled mystery since Dashiell Hammett offered us Sam Spade. I wonder who will play Will in the movie?

Willowjean “Will” Parker — for all intents and purposes — grew up homeless. Her family became the members of the circus she joined at a very young age. The characters with whom she worked helped her grow up. A fluky coincidence results in Will saving the life of unique but successful private detective Lillian Pentecost by using the knife-throwing skills she learned in the circus.

Though Will has no special detecting skills, Lillian sees something in the wise-cracking girl that others don’t see. She offers Will a job as her right-hand. Lillian’s multiple sclerosis is getting worse, and she needs someone to help her do the leg work. As it turns out, Will is perfect for the job.

A few years later, Parker and Pentecost are hired to find the killer in the mysterious death of socialite Abigail Collins. It appears that Abigail was hit on the head by a crystal ball at a seance held at her house, and the murderer seems to be Abigail’s husband. This wouldn’t be that shocking except for the fact that her husband killed himself a number of years before the murder.

Among the suspects is Abigail’s daughter Becca, to whom Will has found herself becoming more and more attracted, and a spiritualist who seems to see more than her crystal ball. Before long, and as Will is required to take on more and more of the duties as Lillian declines, Will’s life is in danger. Will she figure out the murderer in time?

I seriously could have read this book in one sitting had I had more time. It was fun and quirky, but that was wrapped in a really good detective story. I loved the characters, especially tough-talking Will, who has her own soft side.

I’m hoping this is the first in a series. Highly recommended. I recommend Amy Adams in the movie.

Here is a link to the book.