Book Review: Murder Under Her Skin by Stephen Spotswood

New York, 1946: The last time Will Parker let a case get personal, she walked away with a broken face, a bruised ego, and the solemn promise never again to let her heart get in the way of her job. But she called Hart and Halloway’s Travelling Circus and Sideshow home for five years, and Ruby Donner, the circus’s tattooed ingenue, was her friend. To make matters worse the prime suspect is Valentin Kalishenko, the man who taught Will everything she knows about putting a knife where it needs to go.

To uncover the real killer and keep Kalishenko from a date with the electric chair, Will and Ms. Pentecost join the circus in sleepy Stoppard, Virginia, where the locals like their cocktails mild, the past buried, and big-city detectives not at all. The two swiftly find themselves lost in a funhouse of lies as Will begins to realize that her former circus compatriots aren’t playing it straight, and that her murdered friend might have been hiding a lot of secrets beneath all that ink.

Dodging fistfights, firebombs, and flying lead, Will puts a lot more than her heart on the line in the search of the truth. Can she find it before someone stops her ticker for good?

What I Thought:

The second Pentecost and Parker mystery, Murder Under Her Skin, takes Will Parker back to her roots in more ways than one as she returns to her former home, Hart & Halloway’s Circus, but also to a rural setting so similar to the one she left behind as a teenage runaway.

The locals aren’t keen on the circus, or on two big-city detectives helping to solve a murder, but Lillian Pentecost doesn’t let any of that put her off, despite a few close shaves and not-so-veiled threats.

As with the previous book, Fortune Favours the Dead, this is a fiendishly clever murder mystery that, although it is set in the 1940s, deals with what we might consider to be uniquely modern issues. I can’t exactly go into many of them without spoiling the plot, but I can say that disability, sexuality and chronic illness all feature as key parts of the narrative.

The plot here is so beautifully layered – just when you think you’re a couple of steps ahead of the detectives, you’ll realise that you aren’t. All the clues are there but, unless you’ve got a cleverer brain than I, I defy you to put it all together until precisely when Stephen Spotswood wants you to!

I’m looking forward to more from this formidable duo…

Murder Under Her Skin is published by Headline.

About the Author:

STEPHEN SPOTSWOOD (he/him) is an award-winning playwright, journalist, and educator. As a journalist, he has spent much of the last two decades writing about the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the struggles of wounded veterans. His dramatic work has been widely produced across the United States. He makes his home in Washington, D.C. with his wife, young adult author Jessica Spotswood.

You can find Stephen Spotswood online at

Please note: I received a copy of this book via Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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