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Relative Fortunes
by Marlowe Benn
Review

 

Thanks to the lovely Katie from Little Bird Publicity for offering me the opportunity to become involved with reading this series from the beginning, and of course to the folks at NetGalley for the download link.

RELATIVE FORTUNES – (Julia Kydd- Book #1)

Cover image of the book 'Relative Fortunes' by the author Marlowe BennIn 1920s New York, the price of a woman’s independence can be exorbitant—even fatal.

In 1924 Manhattan, women’s suffrage is old news. For sophisticated booklover Julia Kydd, life’s too short for politics. With her cropped hair and penchant for independent living, Julia wants only to launch her own new private press. But as a woman, Julia must fight for what’s hers—including the inheritance her estranged half brother, Philip, has challenged, putting her aspirations in jeopardy.

When her friend’s sister, Naomi Rankin, dies suddenly of an apparent suicide, Julia is shocked at the wealthy family’s indifference toward the ardent suffragist’s death. Naomi chose poverty and hardship over a submissive marriage and a husband’s control of her money. Now, her death suggests the struggle was more than she could bear.

Julia, however, is skeptical. Doubtful of her suspicions, Philip proposes a glib wager: if Julia can prove Naomi was in fact murdered, he’ll drop his claims to her wealth. Julia soon discovers Naomi’s life was as turbulent and enigmatic as her death. And as she gets closer to the truth, Julia sees there’s much more at stake than her inheritance…

MARLOWE BENN – (Image credit to Keith Brofsky)

Image of author Marlowe Benn - image credit to Keith BrofskyBorn near Boston, Marlowe Benn grew up in an Illinois college town along the Mississippi River.

She holds a master’s degree in the book arts from the University of Alabama and a doctorate in the history of books from the University of California, Berkeley.

A former editor, college teacher, and letterpress printer, Marlowe lives with her husband on an island near Seattle.

Relative Fortunes is her debut novel. It was featured in the Amazon First Reads program, and CrimeReads named it one of 2019’s best traditional mysteries.

Visit Marlowe at her website

Connect with Marlowe on Facebook

Follow Marlowe on Twitter

“For years I happily wrote nothing but carefully researched and argued cultural history. Now with fiction I can begin where the archives end. It’s like turning old black and white photos into a full-color video. Research reveals the past; fiction puts it in motion. And once history comes to life, it’s clear that people then wrestled with troubles a lot like our own.

I love writing mysteries because they’re ultimately about justice, and what’s more complicated than guilt and innocence? I especially relish writing about crimes that pit the law against my characters’ moral code. In the end justice is often about power, and the struggle over who gets to decide what’s right or wrong makes for great stories in any genre. Historical mysteries are a great way into the life’s most meaty stuff.”

Cover image of the book 'Relative Fortunes' by the author Marlowe Benn

FIRST LINE

“Two bankers – one gray and stout, the other pink and merely soft about the jowls – conferred in low voices outside the office door, flicking pained glances through the window’s gold lettering.”

Cover image of the book 'Relative Fortunes' by the author Marlowe Benn

MEMORABLE LINES

“Beautiful books could be like nursing infants, handy for ensuring solitude: on glimpsing a bibliophile in commune with a book, most people smiled and tiptoed the other way.”

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“Happy families attracted visitors; warring ones repelled them.”

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“Giving women the vote was the biggest squall yet of democratic tommyrot. Americans seem to think if you accumulate enough ignorance at the polls, something intelligent will result.”

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“All impulse to tears had passed. This was too important for self-pity. Marriage or employment? It came down to a choice between pragmatics and principles, between comfort and dignity.”

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“As yesterday’s turmoil had reminded her, her education had been expensive but haphazard and “female” – meant to breed appreciation more than inquiry, competence more than command.”

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“She recalled Willard Wright’s curdling disdain for democracy, for its trust that the larger the aggregate of fools, the better the chance of collective wisdom.”

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“The mysterious story of Naomi’s death was not a story at all, but a tangled sequence of furtive actions by different players for different reasons.”

Cover image of the book 'Relative Fortunes' by the author Marlowe Benn

REVIEW

“Sometimes death is the loudest voice you have.”

Right, so how to offer up my best review of this book – without giving away any (too many) spoilers!

I am already a dedicated fan of traditional mystery stories, however many of these are by their very definition, English centric, so I was interested to see how well the genre would transfer across the Atlantic to the USA. I need not have worried, as in author Marlowe Benn’s expert hands the transition was seamlessly elegant, with a new and vibrant cast of characters, a textbook storyline beautifully executed, together with a satisfying conclusion which would have done Dame Agatha Christie, the great lady of the genre proud, whilst leaving the door firmly open for the expanded series to become the undoubted success I predict.

In fact at one point during the story, my favourite new amateur sleuth, Julia Kydd, is actually likened to someone hoping to emulate one of the protagonists from the books of the great progressive new author, Mrs. Christie. This set me thinking about the great lady’s characters of ‘Tommy and Tuppence Beresford’, with Julia’s “brother” Philip, unwittingly turning out to be a perfect Tommy, as a foil for Julia’s, Tuppence.

A delicious mix of fiction, blended with a little fact, well researched and presented, there is a strong opening chapter to the book, which really helps to set the scene in a no nonsense way. The storyline in which Julia then finds herself embroiled, moves along at a good pace, with a full cast of clearly defined characters, great easy to follow, clipped dialogue and some excellent descriptive narrative. The ending, whilst not perhaps as definitive as I would usually like, is definitely all left to the imagination of the reader, but is certainly going to have me looking out for the next time Julia Kydd crosses my path!

Set in a post WWI New York, with women having recently attained the right to vote and prohibition in full swing, it is all too apparent that for many families, it is still very much a man’s world and the women of the household are perceived both personally and financially to be the chattels of their male counterparts and not to be trusted with even the smallest modicum of independence, freedom of speech, or almost indeed, freedom of thought.

Julia, educated in the US, then leaving for London as soon as she was able, has now returned to New York at the behest of her step-brother, Philip and his lawyers, to try and unravel the nonsense of their late father’s will. It wouldn’t be giving too much away to reveal that Julia is something of a bibliophile, who dreams, with the help of her portion of the inheritance, of running her own small bespoke publishing and book binding house. Well! given what the times dictate and no matter how much more progressive the US is in some matters, than their UK counterparts, at least by Julia’s reckoning, you can imagine what happens next! – Or can you? I certainly didn’t, as the final pieces of the jigsaw puzzle which is Philip and Julia’s life, are only revealed right near the end of the story. Totally unexpected, although it really shouldn’t have been, as once again some excellent research has thrown up a scenario which was completely plausible for the times, I was left a little breathless, but somewhere in the back of my mind, a whole new plan was forming! Is Philip really the dark horse that I would like him to be?

Julia’s wealthy friend Glennis Rankin, contrives to involve Julia in her intense family traumas, where she quickly works out that, to a person, a more noxiously, complex group of pretentious individuals you would be hard pushed to find, with the exception of the lovely Glennis herself. At first she cannot wait to make her excuses and get away from the company of so many people it is almost impossible to connect with in any sensible fashion. But when a double disaster strikes, which involves both Glennis and herself personally, Julia is set a challenge by the ever erudite Philip, which she neither wants to, or cannot afford to, refuse and Glennis is certain that there is villainy afoot in the Rankin household. Thus setting off a chain of events, which through the astute written power of characterisation, showcases the entire Rankin family in all their disturbingly true colours and provides an excellent study of human behaviour and social commentary, completely in tune with the thinking of the times.

Typical of the tried and tested Agatha Christie case solving formula, Julia contrives to gather all the suspects around her in a place of her choosing, to finally ‘out’ the suspect. However, hand on heart, she only really actually knows half the story for certain, as every single one of them played some small part in bringing poor Naomi’s life to an end. So she throws down some timely seeds of doubt and stands back, as her cast of suspects begin to argue and bicker amongst themselves, unwittingly divulging, a little at a time, pieces of the puzzle which Julia hadn’t really known for certain. Eventually Julia can see the wood for the trees, confidently names her suspect and once again steps aside, a viewer to the most unseemly behaviour which then follows.

Definitely a case of ‘The female of the species is more deadly than the male’ – although only just!

A multi aspect, well constructed storyline, which offered a lovely blend of plot and character driven storytelling. Completely believable, observationally astute and descriptively very visual and tense.

I would have loved to read Passing Fancies, book #2 in the Julia Kydd series back to back, however previous commitments don’t make that possible. I shall definitely be boosting the book up my TBR at every possible opportunity and please keep the stories coming, Marlowe!

Image of author Marlowe Benn - image credit to Keith Brofsky

A complimentary download of this book, was kindly made available by the publicist and supplied by NetGalley.

Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.

I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader.

However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 4 out of 5 stars!

 

Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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4 comments
  • I think that books featuring book lovers appeal to book lovers, myself included. That Julia is exactly the kind of female character that I love makes this one doubly appealing. Combine these with some wonderful memorable lines and a great review, thanks Yvonne, I have to get hold of a copy of what sounds like a book I’d thoroughly enjoy.

    • Hi Felicity,

      Julia is definitely a book lover, as well as now, a rather amateur sleuth.

      This is the start of a very promising series and I already have a copy of book #2 ‘Passing Fancies’, downloaded to my Kindle.

      The only problem I might foresee with the second book is the reference to race, which is there in the premise and is probably therefore contained within the dialogue and narrative of the storyline.

      It doesn’t overly bother me too much, as I would read the content in the context in which it was intended and there have already been a substantial number of very positive ratings and reviews – but who knows these days?

      If you like reading a good Agatha Christie story from time to time, then you will definitely enjoy ‘Relative Fortunes’, without a doubt.

      Thanks for stopping by and I hope that all is well with you 🙂

  • I’ve enjoyed all your features of this mystery, Yvonne, and your excellent review has convinced me to add it to my wishlist. Great cover on both this one and the next in the series. So “roaring ’20s”!

    • Hi Kelly,

      Yes, Julia is very much the epitome of a 1920s ‘flapper’, sophisticated and educated, very much out to make her own way in the world!

      The storyline is quite ‘dark’, when motives are finally brought out into the open and examined and this cast of disreputable characters are revealed in their true colours!

      The fact that our two main protagonists are both book lovers, will I am sure, play a part in the second book. I’m not going to give anything else away about that particular aspect of the storyline though, as it is quite an unexpected twist!

      I hope that you enjoy this one as much as I did 🙂

Written by Yvonne
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