Cover image of "Secrets Typed in Blood," a 1940s noir novel

Think 1940s noir, and what comes to mind? Tough-guy private eyes and corrupt cops. Fistfights in dark alleys. Beautiful dames with murder in their eyes. But that’s not what Stephen Spotswood has in store for you in his 21st-century take on the period. Because only in the mood they convey do the Pentecost and Parker novels resemble the work of the long-forgotten novelists who served up 1940s noir. And instead of distracting and titillating with bouts of violence, Spotswood entertains with fascinating characters and the familiar snappy dialogue of the genre. Secrets Typed in Blood, the third novel in a series, is a story that’s clever, suspenseful, and a far more realistic rendering of the era than those old novels nobody reads anymore.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Our fearless investigators

Lillian Pentecost is “arguably the greatest detective in the five boroughs and beyond.” She is “on a two-woman crusade to make the world a better place, one captured criminal at a time.” Lillian is a woman of about fifty who wields a silver-headed cane because she suffers from multiple sclerosis. And the second woman in the duo is young Willowjean “Will” Parker, who “loves her job, but it doesn’t always love her back.” Will is a former employee of the late, unlamented Hart & Halloway Traveling Circus and Sideshow. She’s now a PI, with “four years and change as a working detective” behind her. Together, Pentecost and Parker operate Pentecost Investigations along with their “Scottish-émigrée housekeeper and loyal watchdog,” Eleanor Campbell. Mrs. Campbell is “one part midwife to two parts mastiff.” Together, these three intrepid women routinely attract “big cases, big headlines, big paychecks.”

Secrets Typed in Blood (Pentecost and Parker #3) by Stephen Spotswood (2022) 324 pages ★★★★★ 

Photo of a Victorian mansion like the one that figures centrally in this 1940s noir novel
A Victorian mansion on the upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1940s like the one where Jessup Quincannon holds his salons to talk about murder. Image: Ephemeral New York

“Somebody’s stealing my murders”

Holly Quick is a prolific crime-magazine writer. “She’s killed a thousand people under a dozen pseudonyms. Now someone’s ripping her murders from the pulp pages and trying them out for real.” As Holly laments to Pentecost and Parker, “Somebody’s stealing my murders.” Three so far, as the detectives learn when the author appeals for their help. She won’t go to the police. She. Will. Not. Because, as Lillian and Will both swiftly deduce, Holly has something to hide. Something really ugly. And that secret will cast a pall over the agency and open a fissure between the two as they proceed to investigate the three seemingly unrelated murders modeled on Holly’s stories.

Along the way, as the investigation proceeds, we’ll meet the eccentric multimillionaire Jessup Quincannon. He’s a “wealthy philanthropist and student of history’s bloodiest murderers.” Quincannon holds forth from a “haunted mansion” at the Black Museum Club, a “murder salon” where wealthy men gather to chat about murder. We’ll also encounter detectives Donald Staples (“up-and-comer in the NYPD”) and Lieutenant Nathan Lazenby (“the top homicide cop in the city”). “He’ll let Pentecost and Parker bend the law, but won’t sit by when they break it.” Which they will do on occasion as this bizarre case wends its uncertain way to a surprising conclusion.

About the author

Photo of Stephen Spotswood, author of this 1940s noir novel
Stephen Spotswood. Image: author’s website

According to his publisher’s blurb and his own author website, “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.” The four 1940s noir novels of the Pentecost and Parker series are his only books to date.

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