Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Murder Under Her Skin by Stephen Spotswood

First Line: "The prosecution calls Lillian Pentecost to the stand."
As private detectives Lillian Pentecost and Willowjean "Will" Parker finish a high-profile case in New York City, Will gets word that Ruby Donner, the Amazing Tattooed Woman, has been killed and her knife-throwing mentor, Valentin Kalishenko, is in jail for murder. Not only was Ruby the first person to befriend Will when she ran away to the circus as a teenager, Will knows that Kalishenko could not have killed her. In no time flat, the two women board a train for Virginia and Hart & Halloway's Traveling Circus and Sideshow.

What they find is a rattlesnake den of old grudges, local crime, and secrets someone is willing to kill for. It doesn't take long for the two to realize that they are up to their necks in lies, and Will finds it hard to swallow that her friends in the circus aren't being straight with her. Determined to identify Ruby's killer and to free her teacher, Will finds herself dodging fistfights, Molotov cocktails, and bullets in her search for truth.
This second book in Stephen Spotswood's Pentecost & Parker historical mystery series, Murder Under Her Skin, is even better than the first (Fortune Favors the Dead). World-famous detective Lillian Pentecost and her protégée Willowjean "Will" Parker are a rare combination in crime fiction. Pentecost has a mind like the proverbial steel trap, a glass eye, and multiple sclerosis. Teenage Will Parker ran away from an abusive situation at home and finally spent five years in a circus before joining Pentecost. It's not often that readers come across two hardboiled female gumshoes, but Pentecost and Parker excel in their roles. 
Taking Will back to Hart & Halloway's Traveling Circus lets readers learn more of her backstory, and the small circus setting in 1946 rural Virginia is so well done that I felt as though I were right in the thick of things. Will finds it hard to believe that the people she considers family are lying to her, and it makes her uncomfortable knowing that Pentecost may learn things about her past that Will doesn't necessarily want her to know. 
Murder Under Her Skin is told in Will's irreverent voice, and I love it. She has an excellent turn of phrase, whether it be in describing the sounds a group of tarantulas make when it's on the move, or in noticing that no one sits in a dead man's chair when she visits someone's home. One of my favorites? When Will describes an ill-tempered guard dog of a secretary: "She kept a close eye on us from the gunner's turret of her desk." The mental picture that immediately sprang to my mind was perfection.

Another piece of perfection was the mystery itself. Spotswood has crafted a mystery that kept me completely in the dark from beginning to end, and once everything was revealed, I could see where he'd planted his clues all along the way. I read a boatload of crime fiction, so I love it when an author can do this to me.

Stephen Spotswood's Pentecost & Parker series has become one of my favorites in just two books. I can't wait to see what these two get up to in their next investigation.

Murder Under Her Skin by Stephen Spotswood
eISBN: 9780385547154
Doubleday © 2021
eBook, 368 pages
Historical Mystery, #2 Pentecost & Parker mystery
Rating: A
Source: Net Galley


  1. Thanks for this recommendation. I plan to check it out.

    1. You're welcome, Judy. I hope you get a chance to read it.

  2. Did you plan this review to post the same day that The Poisoned Pen did an interview with the author? I watched that just before coming here, and enjoy the synchronicity. And I'm glad to see such a positive review, since I also enjoyed the first book and have been looking forward to this one.

  3. This one sounds like a curiosity of characters! I'll look for it.

    1. The characters are what make this series so special, Jen.

  4. This sounds like fun. I enjoyed the first book; it's unique.


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