The day after her fifteenth birthday, Willowjean “Will” Parker runs away from home and ends up joining the circus. Life is not easy for her on the road as she learns the ins and outs of carny life, but it is infinitely more tolerable than it has been living with her drunken, abusive father since her mother died when she was six. The circus owners rotate her through every position needing attention, from mucking out latrines and animal cages to filling in for skimpily-clad dancers. When the circus is stationed in town for several days, she pads her income by hiring out as watchman at construction sites.
One evening Will encounters the famous New York detective Lillian Pentecost at a job site she’s working and finds herself embroiled in an assault and murder. After intense questioning by the police and eventual release, Will is surprised when she is offered a job as assistant by the famed detective. She moves into the Pentecost brownstone and begins an apprenticeship.
Three years later, Will and her boss are hired to solve the mystery of wealthy socialite Abigail Collins, whose head was smashed in by a crystal ball and whose dead body was found in a smoke-filled, locked room after a party seance held by visiting spiritualist Ariel Belestrade. Finding the perpetrator is complicated by a competing cast of relatives seeking to inherit family money, prevent the disclosure of family secrets, insure the continuance of military armament contracts being directed to Collins Steelworks, and manage their own sexual proclivities.
Set in the 1940’s, this book is a great introduction for YA readers to the detective mystery genre . Its complex storyline and characterizations will hold the reader’s attention. The focus on gender fluidity sets it apart from earlier, traditional novels, since four of the main characters are gay. Other major themes include domestic abuse, the power of wealth to squash the working lower classes, political control of city management, and the economic importance of the military-industrial complex, to name a few. Language issues are minor, although there are a few examples of religious profanity. Violent episodes are graphic. There are references to sexual attraction but nothing descriptive or worth flagging.
Categories: Civil Rights, Crime, Differently Abled, Diversity, Domestic Abuse in YA Fiction, Dysfunctional Relationships, Historical Fiction, LGBTQIA, Mysteries, Parent Conflict, Political Activism, Suicide, Supernatural/Occult, Violence