This historical mystery series is criminally underrated—I LOVE it, y’all. Queer rep, 1940s noir with a modern edge, witty as hell, and so much fun you can’t stop reading/listening/laughing. I highly recommend the audiobook.
Audiobook experience: ★★★★★
This is the third installment in the Pentecost and Parker mystery series. While they each can be read as standalones, the first two books are great too and I recommend starting there.
Pentecost and Parker are back! And there's a new series of murders in town....
Willowjean 'Will' Parker and her boss, Ms. Lillian Pentecost, are a private detective duo operating in 1940s New York City as two women with a reputation for solving New York's most troubling and unsolved cases. They're a unique crime-fighting duo for the 1940s—two single women, one older with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis and one in her 20s with a passion for crime and for love affairs with both men and women—and their passion for helping women, people of color, and those in special circumstances has given them a boatload of cases and a sensational relationship with the press.
In Secrets Typed in Blood, the case for Pentecost and Parker starts with a high body count and a ticking clock. There's a copycat murder on the loose, killing New Yorkers in a sensational way and ripping their crimes from the fictional stories of one particular crime writer.
Holly Quick pens crime stories for a local paper under many pseudonyms. When she notices a disturbing link between her fictional murders and some real-life headlines, she calls up Pentecost and Parker. Her one stipulation? No police.
Will and Ms. Pentecost are very aware that Holly's hiding secrets of her own, but the mystery of the copycat killer is too enthralling to pass up. They take the case.
Y'all! My neighbors could hear my scream of happiness when this latest book appeared on my doorstep. This series—and in particular, these characters—have my heart and I've been an advocate for them since my first read last year.
The perfect hybrid between cozy mystery and noir, Pentecost and Parker fulfill an interesting niche in the detective story scene. They're historical and filled with banter, but they're not your grandmother's predictable tea shop cozy. They're intricately plotted and their murders are ghastly, but it's not the grim never-ending darkness of today's modern detective mystery/thriller.
There's something about this series that hits all of my buttons.
This particular installment was nicely paced and a fresh mystery for the iconic duo to solve. I liked the interplay between the copycat murderer and the social mystery behind Holly Quick's backstory.
I also liked that the slow-burn unsolved mystery that emerged in the early books continued in the background of this one--similar to Sherlock with Moriarty, Pentecost and Parker have a "big bad" that they're chasing behind the scenes of their current drama. I'm excited to see that play out in future books.
Don't sleep on this story—pick it up! And for my listening friends, I can't recommend the audiobook highly enough, it's fabulous.
*I receive a small commission from Libro.fm if you use my link above.
Medieval history secrets, ancient tarot decks, a dark academia museum setting, and a close-knit group of coworkers who blur the lines between personal and professional... I'd love to live in this version of higher academia, please, potentiality for murder be damned.
Use of history: ★★★★★
"Death always came for me in August."
Ann Sitwell, a recent college graduate from Nowhere Important in small town Washington, has arrived in New York City. She's an art history graduate with a passion for esoteric Renaissance and late Medieval pieces with a bend toward the arcane—her niche topic isn't necessarily the most relevant, her internship opportunities slim. So when she arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to find out that they don't want her anymore, she's paralyzed.
But then, a fortuitous chance meeting with the enigmatic head curator at The Cloisters, Patrick, changes Ann's trajectory forever.
The Cloisters, a gothic museum settled right in the heart of Manhattan and incongruously secluded, is a museum unlike any Ann has ever laid eyes on. Its history seeps from the walls, and priceless collections, artifacts, and archives all tailored to Ann's areas of interest seem like an unbelievable dream.
There's Patrick, the established curator and head of The Cloisters, who has amassed a small and cloistered—pun so very intended—group around him for his current passion project in the occult. He's searching for hints of the earliest tarot decks and their potential links between the Medieval and Renaissance periods. He's searching, unbelievably, for a hint of true magic amongst the earliest of divination decks.
There is Leo, the gardener for the magical copse of deadly plants in the center of The Cloisters' museum structure. Surrounded by plants used historically in poisons, medicines, and aids to the divine, Leo's orbit as the non-academic in this seat of hushed knowledge is an itch that Ann just might find herself scratching.
And then there is Rachel, Patrick's other assistant. Beautiful, ethereal, unbelievably wealthy and connected Rachel. Rachel is also interested in this same field of study and welcomes Ann into the fold like a sorority sister inducting a new member, teaching her all of the tricks and ways of life in this small, set apart academic pocket.
When academic stakes meet deadly games, Ann just might find that she's found more than she bargained for...
Welcome to The Cloisters.
I'll keep my thoughts short and sweet on this one, because it's all high praise. This honey-slow, lingering, and deathly divine story was one that I could not stop reading. The Cloisters is a novel that breathes, sharing its secrets and obsessive drive with you. Ann's journey through grief, her enmeshing into this closed system of claustrophobic academics, and the ultimate unraveling of it all was such a treat to read.
Obvious comparisons have been made between this novel and other dark academia titans like The Secret History. I agree with those comparisons—if you like the standard favorites in the genre, then this novel is likely going to work for you. But I'd like to expand that filter a bit. If you're interested in magic and its weavings throughout our actual history, if you're interested in tarot, if you're interested in the study of the arcane in any way... this novel will likely work for you also.
Looking forward to more novels from this author.
A secluded lake. Death and secrets. And a house with glass walls hiding something sinister inside... Keep your eyes focused on the house across the lake.
Casey Fletcher is at her family's lake house for the summer for a forced recuperation from the press. A character actress who has spent the past year burning down her life with alcohol and bad decisions, she's drinking her way through her own personal lockdown in rural Vermont.
It's an interesting place for Casey to attempt to find her center, as it's the location of her husband's death by drowning.
Grieving, drinking, and trying her best not to think about her past, Casey doesn't have much to do while sitting in the house by herself. So she watches the residents around the lake.
In particular, there's a house across from hers with an entire side of glass windows facing the lake—and therefore facing her. At night, the lit-up box is like a real-life dollhouse complete with the movements of its two real-life inhabitants: tech mogul Tom Royce and his former model wife, Katherine.
Casey witnesses some very odd things in the Royce house when no one is looking.
And then Katherine disappears.
With unsteady hands and yet a drive for the truth, Casey's decided she can't let this lie—what's happened to Katherine? And why is her husband, Tom, acting like nothing is wrong?
Casey isn't prepared for the lid to blow off of Pandora's Box. But it's coming for her anyway.
Be careful what you spy on... You might not like what you see.
I think it's no secret that I am a huge fan of Riley Sager. Compulsively readable, engagingly paced, and ultimately fantastic fun, his stories are ones that I look forward to reading each year. His characters are the right level of flawed yet relatable. His plots veer from the mundane to the fantastical. And his settings drip with atmospheric tension.
The House on the Lake delivered, again, another Sager hit.
Without veering into spoiler territory, I really can't address the plot beyond what is mentioned above. I'd go into this story as blind as you can—it makes the ending more fun!
I will say, the ending completely surprised me. I don't know if I read this on the right day or what, but that ending completely side-swiped me in left field as I confidently thought I had it all figured out. The surprise was a good one, for me, and I loved that the author caught me off my guard.
The only thing that dragged this story down for me was the first half's pacing coupled with the heavy dose of Casey's alcoholism. Representation of her struggles was—to my limited knowledge—well done and accurate, but because the setting was so limited AND not much was happening beyond establishing the scene repeatedly, it made the alcohol references feel like they were repeating all over the place. I wish we'd had more going on in the early sections of the story to dilute that element of the plot.
Overall, a fantastic read. Ready for the next one, Riley!
A locked room mystery, a 1950s queer haven manor, and an interesting soap side plot. This was so wonderful—and remarkably cozy even with its dark themes.
Mystery(s)/Reveal(s): ★★ 1/2
Andy is a former detective at the end of the line. He's ready to call it quits in a very real way—trigger warnings right out the gate—and he has nothing left to strive for. He's gay in 1950s America. Recently outed at a raid by his own former police officer coworkers and ruthlessly fired from the force, Andy doesn't know what is next, and if it's worth finding out at all.
The last thing he expects is to be offered a job sitting at the bar, blind drunk at 11 am. A well-dressed, wealthy older woman wants him to solve a murder. Well, maybe it was a murder. Either way—she wants to know what happened, and she's willing to pay Andy and house him for his trouble.
Oh, and the best part? This woman and her surviving found family live in a hidden utopia of queerness. The dead woman is her wife, and their blended family are all queer on the estate.
Andy doesn't know how to receive this news, but he takes the lifeline for what it is and accepts the job.
However, the family is hiding secrets. (Aren't they all?) And Andy's stepping into a much bigger scene than he's anticipating. When you factor in the dead woman's soap dynasty... things are about to get interesting.
Lavender House was the perfect read for me at the right time. It was surprisingly cozy, the right blend of serious with quaint, and a remix of the classics bringing something fresh to the character tableau of the "classic" murder mystery setting.
It also deftly handled the line of realism vs. utopian ideals surrounding the concept of a hidden queer family living happily in the 1950s. They were a wealthy family who kept to themselves and had the resources to keep their happiness separate from harsh realities, true, but the doses of reality in this novel kept this story grounded for me.
I will caution my queer friends and those reading this review—given the contents, there is a lot of potentially triggering content for period homophobia and other elements. Please proceed with caution.
Overall, a fantastic cozy read that I would be happy to pick up again when I'm in need of a quaint escape.
Thank you to TOR Forge for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
A witty duo, the 1940s with a modern edge, and a whole lotta mystery. If you read anything remotely related to cozy mysteries or dynamic female duos being badasses, you NEED to have this on your radar.
It's the mid-1940s in New York City and Willowjean "Will" Parker is working as night shift muscle for an abandoned construction site. Will's always looking for cash in between circus gigs, and this one pays as well as anything. (And Will knows how to handle herself.)
What Will isn't expecting, however, is to witness Lillian Pentecost in action. Middle-aged, wielding an elegant cane for her multiple sclerosis (M.S.), and dressed in an impeccable tailored suit, Ms. Pentecost is here to catch a killer and completely unbothered by Will's presence.
Will ends up killing said murderer—with a throwing knife to the back—for Ms. Pentecost's sake.
The dynamic duo is born.
Months later, Will and Ms. Pentecost are the best private detectives in the game, with cases spanning from the mundane to the spectacular. And this time, it's a classic locked-room mystery that's piqued their interest. A rich man dies, supposedly by suicide. A year later, his widow dies in a locked room after a disturbing séance.
Are the two deaths connected, and if so, are they murders?
This was so. much. fun. I can't state that enough. For one thing, it's rare to find a cozy mystery series that packs a punch at every single level. Engaging characters? Check. Engaging plot beyond the basics? Check. Authentic bisexual representation? Check. Intricate world-building beyond the murder? Check. Humor for days? Check.
Fortune Favors the Dead had it ALL, folks. I am in love with these characters and their adventures. I hope the author writes many, many more to come. Do yourself a solid and pick this up, I promise you won't regret it.
A near-perfect blend of atmospheric fiction mixed with a mystery. Not a standard mystery/thriller by any means...but a spectacular main character voice. I've added this author to my immediate "to watch" list and can see myself rereading this novel many times to come.
Main character/Narrative Voice: ★★★★★
Actual Mystery(s): ★★
Pure Enjoyment: ★★★★★
So first off, I think that this novel is weirdly placed in the mystery/thriller category on the shelves when really, it's an atmospheric literary fiction with some dead bodies in it.
It's like alternative take on a Jennifer McMahon, if you gutted all of her unnecessary meanderings and subplots (some people like them, I do not) and left us with just the vibes and atmosphere—and added a main character that pops right off the page and into your living room. Don't come for the devious and hard-to-grasp mystery—this is not a Christie whodunit. This is an atmospheric stay.
Dark Currents follows the story of David, a transgender man who is returning to his childhood small town of New Compton, Rhode Island, a few years after his transition and right on the heels of his recent firing from a university.
Why is David returning to his hometown, you might ask?
Because his grandma, who lives there alone, is in the downward swing of degenerative memory loss and he received a disturbing voicemail from her one night. There's a body, there's a lot of blood, there's a lobster, and there's a man in the dark. Can David come now!?
David rushes to the scene, but by the time he arrives his grandma's forgotten the whole thing and is surprised to see him there. But the dead body is real, and its grandma's neighbor and life-long old friend. It looks like an accident, but David can't be sure and neither can the town—their witness isn't exactly reliable, after all.
With small town secrets, histories, family, and more colliding into one tangle, it's up to David and his ex-boyfriend, town cop Billy Dyer, to solve the mystery and untangle the threads of the past before it's too late.
WOW. This writing voice. Every once in a while, you come across writing that just leaps off the page and into your room with you—the voice of the narrator is so strong and so vivid without being a distraction in its own right. Dark Currents is one of those books. I could practically hear David's voice in my head as I read these pages. I loved this book for that vividness alone as hardly any fiction does that for me these days.
Another thing I loved about this novel was that the story wasn't really about the mystery. It was about the people and their histories and how they converged in this particular point in time. Dark Currents has a bit of an oral history vibe to it, with vignettes of stories interspersed as David's grandma's friends tell him about the past while he tries to untangle the present. It also has a strong small town and maritime vibe, which also appealed to me. The sea and its secrets, and those who keep them.
Also, last but NOT least--this novel was hilarious too. Amid the extremely dark topics of murder, transphobia/PTSD, and degenerative memory loss and its affects on family, the dry one liners and situational humor that the author managed to organically fit into this story was just *chef's kiss*.
I loved it.
Wow, this mystery packed a punch... but the true star of the show was the complexity of the main character/amateur detective, Frankie Elkin. Very strong opener for a woman I hope we see in more sequels.
A woman with a haunted past, Frankie Elkin has carved out a space within empty spaces for herself as a traveling amateur investigator. No home, no possessions, no family to encourage her to settle down and keep her roots.
She follows the trails of the missing. And she's found 14 of them so far. None were alive, but that's not what Frankie promised their family in the first place--Frankie promised to find them. And she does.
In Before She Disappeared, Frankie arrives in Boston with her nose to the ground on a missing persons case that's spent 11 months gathering dust by the local investigators. Angelique Badeau, a promising young Haitian immigrant attending Boston Academy high school, went missing after school one day. The leads dried up fast.
Her younger brother, Emmanuel, is convinced that she's still alive somewhere.
The cops, including the brooding Detective Lotham in charge of the case, don't think that's the case.
Frankie doesn't know who is right just yet, but she's determined to find out.
If there's one thing Frankie is good at, it's asking the right questions. And being such a pain in cops' ass that they begrudgingly ignore her tactics and let her stumble around the fringes of the case. With one begrudging Detective Lotham at her side, Frankie's ready to roll...
I thought this was one heck of a good mystery/thriller. There was just enough of a pacing issue to keep it from being an all-time favorite for me, personally, but it came close. Before She Disappeared is a tightly plotted, atmospheric, and memorable thriller with a rock-solid core in its protagonist, Frankie.
Frankie and her singular sense of drive really carried this novel for me, even when I struggled to engage with the plot at the beginning. I wanted to know more about this woman—why was she doing this? What in her past made her this way, and what would it take for her to recover?
Other elements that really worked for me was the setting and side characters. I've never been to Boston, and I'm definitely not plugged in to the Haitian immigrant population and their day-to-day flow, but in this novel the author breathed life into that scenario and I could almost believe that I was there and knew what the heck I was talking about (obviously I don't, but it speaks to the author's research and/or ability to convey a particular geographic imprint that I felt that "sold" onto the worldbuilding).
I'd strongly recommend this one to fans of Louisa Luna, Jane Harper, and other moody mystery/thrillers with killer writing and unbelievably real main characters.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Another hypnotic, unstoppable novel from an author who can seemingly tackle any genre. Crime noir, interesting characters, and a plot that moves at the pace of a snail and yet captivates your attention. A very interesting read.
Happy Publication Day!
Velvet Was the Night is a study in interesting contradictions wrapped around a "true horror story," as the author herself notes in her afterword. I found it to be utterly compelling even despite of a few personal quirks.
Maite is a 30-year-old woman in 1970s Mexico City. She lives in an apartment that she can't really afford, she works as a dictation secretary in a law office she doesn't like, and she's desperate for love and yet unwilling to open herself up to the possibility of finding it.
She's not a likeable character, to be honest. But I didn't care--she was interesting. And interesting people are more fun to follow within a story.
When her neighbor, the beautiful and artistic Leonara, asks Maite to watch her cat while she leaves town for a few days, Maite reluctantly agrees. Maite has no idea how that one decision will change her life.
Leonara doesn't return. And things in Mexico City are about to boil over into a political nightmare with Maite, of all people, somehow at the center of the story.
Entwined with Maite's story is the story of Elvis, a young man working for the Hawks, a shady, guerilla/gangsterized form of enforcers operating in the shadows of the current Mexican regime. Elvis fell into the line of work when his petty thieving brought him to the attention of the wrong people, and now he's embroiled in the drama whether he wants to be or not. And Elvis isn't quite sure these days.
As Maite's and Elvis' lives meld into one noir narrative bubbling with intrigue, Velvet Was the Night embarks on a simmering adventure.
Now, I'm starting from a place of bias when I say that I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia already. I'm primed to—at a minimum—enjoy her work as I love her writing style and her way of delving into character development. This novel was no exception. I loved it too.
Velvet Was the Night was a different kind of Moreno-Garcia read, however, and I'm still chewing on the why. For one thing, it took Moreno-Garcia's already slowwww pacing and dialed it down even further. Which I didn't know was possible. Let's be honest: I struggled with the slowness of the pacing for the first half of the book because it was just that—tooooooo slowwwwww.
But then the simmering, never-at-rest and yet slow-as-heck vibe started to get to me. I was hooked, and even though I still wanted the ride to go faster, I was getting into it as a slow burn. Good synonyms for this story: simmering, digesting, creeping, enveloping. Slow and steady wins the RACE, y'all.
I also had a bit of a harder time with this novel as the characters weren't who I wanted them to be. I don't know why, maybe it's society's expectations or stereotypes of the genre or something else, but the fact that Maite and Elvis continued to thwart my expectations of them (sometimes even in negative ways) just really took me aback. Looking back on the reading experience, I liked that about the novel. But during the read I found it frustrating.
See what I mean? Contradictions. An odd, lingering, inescapable story. Another winner.
Silvia, what WILL you write next??? I am already waiting.
Thank you to Del Rey for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Really interesting. Hypnotic. Didn’t go where I expected it to go, and carried an uncomfortable edge from beginning to bitter end.
Writing style: ★★★★
Sense of unease: ★★★★★
Plot/Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
The Temple House Vanishing comes out on July 6!
As I write this review, there's a thunderstorm outside my window and we're on our 5th day of constant rain and storms. This feels almost creepily tied to the review of this book... so I'm rolling with it.
It was a dark, and stormy night...
But actually, it wasn't. It was just "a" night in the rural Irish moors when Louisa disappears from the Temple House school. The enigmatic young male teacher, Mr. Lavelle, disappears too. Many theories abound over the years as neither student nor teacher are seen again.
Did they run off together?
Was their something sordid in their closeness?
Where are they now?
What REALLY happened that school year in the all-girls boarding school?
On the 25th anniversary of the disappearances, a journalist decides to have a crack at solving the case. The students are now middle-aged women, the nuns who ran the school are dead, and Temple House itself is slated for demolition. If the case is going to be solved at all, it must be now.
But all is not what it seems, and as the layers unpeel from this gothic tale the lingering sense of unease creeps up on you. Don't get too comfortable.
I thought this was a very interesting novel. Is it a mystery/thriller? Kind of. Is it a twisted tale, meant to unearth the darkest aspects of human nature? I don't know if I'd say that. In the end, I'd say it's a character study and an exercise in the gothic classics. The Temple House Vanishing is perfect for those who enjoy Sarah Waters and Sarah Moss.
The writing style took a little getting used to, as it's very no-nonsense and deals in overt sentences laced with undertones. I found it really easy to get lost in the surface plot and glaze over some of the fine print in the details... and then that would bite me later, as those fine details were where the true story is unfolding.
A complex, multilayered dual-POV novel with a lot of interesting nuances.
Now, a brief NON-SPOILER section on the ending. As this novel is centered around a mysterious circumstance, there is a final series of reveals regarding The Truth of What Happened. I found myself surprised by the ending... and also slightly cheated... and also vaguely uneasy. It wasn't a comfortable, or frankly satisfying, ending. But it felt very real and not over-sensationalized and honestly fit right in with the overall sense of lingering unease that the novel provoked.
If this review doesn't turn you right off from the book, then I'd say you should pick it up! The target audience is on the small, niche side, but you'll have a good time here if that's your thing.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Disturbing, heart wrenching, powerful, and shattering. A Muslim lawyer takes on the hardest legal case of her career and finds the lines between professional and personal slipping as she defends a disabled white girl in her accusation of rape against four local Muslim boys. This is not a casual read by any description, but it is an extremely powerful one.
A court case surrounding a "he said, she said" rape trial with the added complexities of disability and racial tensions? Yeah, we went there. And it was as messy as you can imagine it to be.
Jodie is a a 16-year-old white girl with facial deformities and a story to tell. When she walks into the Artemis House, a legal institution that provides council to women, and tells her story... it's shocking. In it, she accuses 4 Muslim boys from her high school of violence and sexual assault.
Zara, a Muslim herself, is Jodie's case worker. She believes Jodie and vows to defend her no matter the cost.
However, Zara herself is dealing with several personal issues during this time as well. Her family life is shattered: when Zara flees her husband's family and a bad arranged marriage, she's branded negatively by the local Muslim community. Her family is upset at her lack of tradition, her lack of subservience, her mental fortitude and independence.
Adding this sexual assault trial against "their" boys does not help matters.
It also doesn't help that Zara's struggling with her emotional state and her dependence on prescription drugs. When life throws you curveballs, why not take a chill pill? When one becomes two becomes more.... Zara's sinking here too.
And then more things come out about the case, and Jodie's story...
Just who, exactly, is telling the truth?
It's a testament to the author's talent that she evokes such strong themes and visceral reactions to her story. For that reason, Kia Abdullah is one my list to watch for future books. While I think I'm done with sexual assault themes in novels for good—NOT the fault of this book, but something I've learned through trial and error this year is not a good topic for me to consume for personal reasons—this was an extremely powerful and well-told story.
One of the strongest elements of this novel is the balancing act between the two storylines and the actual truth. Like most court cases, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I appreciated the author's deft handling of the plot's conclusion... especially as it would have been so easy to misstep and deliver one of the more expected outcomes.
This is the kind of novel that continuously asks you, the reader, to check yourself. Are you experiencing bias by wishing for this outcome or the other? Who are you siding with, and why? How do you respond to Zara's personal quagmires? Just who exactly is "winning" here, or are there no winners?
A complex book. Recommended reading for all readers of the genre and, honestly, other adult fiction readers too. A powerful story that deserves a wide audience.
Thank you to St Martins Press for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.