Monday, October 24, 2016

Lilly Long Mysteries, Book 1 - An Untimely Frost

I've somewhat fallen behind in my reading due to the rehearsal schedule on the play I am in ("The Murder Room," which opens the first weekend of November) - but that doesn't mean I'm not reading. In fact, I just finished reading the first book in a new series!  A titian-haired young female detective out of the Midwest must find out what happened to a missing preacher and his family, who is accused of stealing funds from the local parishioners. Along the way, she must face men who belittle her ability as a female detective, she faces threats warning her to drop the case or else, she is nearly run down by someone who wants her off the case, she finds a secret room that holds the solution to the mystery, and she ultimately faces off against the most unlikely of culprits in a nice little twist.

A new Nancy Drew series, you ask?

If Nancy Drew were set in the late 1800s, and if she were an actress whose husband took advantage of her, stole her life savings, and left her destitute ... but instead, it's Lilly Long, the creation of author Penny Richards. It's very clear that Richards loved Nancy Drew in some fashion, as this first book so obviously pays homage in so many ways to the pop culture icon.  Only, in this world, Lilly is an accomplished actress (the book titles come from various stage plays) whose marriage turns out to be little more than a con, when she finds her husband threatening her adopted mother. He takes off with Lilly's life savings, setting Lilly on a brand new journey that puts her acting skills to use in a whole new way - as a detective!

While An Untimely Frost is definitely a mystery of a serious nature, Richards is not afraid to throw a bit of humor in here and there, where appropriate.  One of the best scenes in the entire book occurs when Lilly is first trying to gain employment with the Pinkerton detective agency.  Chapters 6 and 7 provide a rather intriguing scenario of interviews - first, Lilly interviews for the position, and while she impresses William Pinkerton and his father, Allan, she is told she is too young for the position.  Over the next several days, the Pinkertons interview several more women for the position, each of whom has peculiarities or eccentricities that keep them from being a good candidate.  One, however, manages to catch the Pinkertons' attention - and when they call her back, she reveals to them that she is actually Lilly - that, in fact, all of the interviewees over the past several days have been Lilly in disguise (remember, she is an actress!).  While Richard Pinkerton is put off, Allan Pinkerton approves and hires her on a trial basis.

Thus begins Lilly's first adventure, tracking down a missing preacher and his family for a client who wishes to buy their homestead that they left behind.  Lilly finds much more than she bargains for, though, from a town who refuses to provide her any information willingly and who are desperate to have her out of town.  A search of the actual property reveals that there is something more sinister afoot, and there are definitely darker secrets being hidden - from the bloody sheets to the unmarked grave in the backyard to the secret room in the attic.  And what of that rather dashing but brash boxer who seems to always popping up everywhere Lilly goes?

And beneath all of this mystery and secrets lies another mystery that will clearly be an ongoing subplot in this series - who killed Lilly's mother?

Richards provides a well-written mystery with some extremely interesting characters that I look forward to getting to know better in future books (the second book, Though This Be Madness, is set to come out next year).  She engages the reader from the get-go, and she definitely keeps your attention from page one to the very end.  Definitely a must read for mystery-lovers and Nancy Drew fans everywhere!

RATING:  10 mail-order brides out of 10 for providing a brand new mystery heroine with all the spunk and determination of Nancy Drew and the rich, vivid writing that brings the characters and story so easily to life!

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