Stephen Spotswood’s Fortune Favors the Dead is a wonderful bit of throwback fiction, featuring a pair of detectives solving mysteries while sharing a home. It is hardly a new formula, yet works very well. The case here deals with a psychic, a rich family, and a series of fairly distanced deaths. Still, like so many pairs, the detectives have to meet.
The detective Ms. Pentecost hires on Parker because she needs a more reliable set of hands. Specifically, at the start of the partnership it is explained that she is in early stages of multiple sclerosis.
Parker is an interesting woman, running away from home to join the circus at a young age before meeting a brilliant detective. She has some level of same sex attraction which is a major element of the novel, yet does not quite feel out of place in the setting as used. There is, to be sure, a romance. Yet it is careful in the ways a romance can be, and homosexuality plays a certain noticeable part in the proceedings that works quite well towards the narrative.
The solution to this mystery, and the resolution of the primary conflicts, are not typical of most novels of the like. That said even such a departure harkens back to Doyle, Christie, and other masters of the genre. Rather than feeling cheated, a reader will appreciate the way that the truth comes to them without anyone breaking character in an effort to push out the information.
Themes of class, gender, and sexual orientation all play throughout this little volume, yet none push so far to the forefront that they overpower the narrative or obscure the entertaining characters. While this is a delicate balance, a long series, particularly with short novels pushes the need to focus on character further than a standalone might.
A series was definitely the goal for this volume. While this edition sports a preview for an upcoming volume, the structure of the book lends to exactly that as well. The book is in first person from the point do view of Miss Parker as she relates her first meeting with and one much later case working for Ms. Pentacost. She makes time to note that there were plenty of adventures in the interim, and implied a fair many afterward, yet decides to start at this tantalizing tale. The fact that readers have only recently been introduced to this delightful pairing makes them all the more impressive, and a moment in the final pages shows that many developments are Still on their way.
This little volume has a lot of style, down to the art deco inspired cover art from Rio Ricardo. This is a classic mystery that evokes Stout and Christie, and for a certain subset there will be no higher praise. This little volume is easy to recommend, and those who have already read through it should eagerly await the next book in the series.
(Black Lizard, 2021)