Fans of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries (and I count myself among the most fervent) will find a certain sense of familiarity in a witty new series of noir whodunits by DC author Stephen Spotswood.
They feature a large, eccentric genius who is mobility-challenged and a wise-cracking assistant who’s not afraid to mix it up. The two of them live in a brownstone in 1940s New York and solve crimes. But there the similarities end. Because both characters in Spotswood’s mysteries are female (which would no doubt gall the famously misogynistic Wolfe).
In their debut outing, “Fortune Favors the Dead,” we’re introduced to Lillian Pentecost when her life is saved by one Willowjean “Will” Parker, a scrappy upstart who learned some very useful knife-throwing skills during a stint with the circus. Pentecost, who is suffering from MS, takes on the nimble young woman as her assistant and trains her in the fine art of detection. Their first case involves sinister spiritualists, possible messages from the dead, and a victim bludgeoned to death with—what else?—a crystal ball.
“Murder Under Her Skin” finds Pentecost and Parker traveling to rural Virginia to investigate the death of a tattooed lady at the same traveling circus where Will found a new home after escaping an abusive childhood. Her former mentor, Kalishenko the knife thrower, is the chief murder suspect, and it’s up to the New York duo to wade through the evasions of the close-knit and colorful circus folk to get to the truth.
A third Pentecost and Parker adventure, “Secrets Typed in Blood,” involving a pulp detective magazine writer, is due out in December—and you can bet it will be at the top of my Christmas list.
Stephen Spotswood is an award-winning playwright, journalist, and educator who is the winner of the 2021 Nero Award for best American mystery. www.stephenspotswood.com