Still Life with Murder by P.B Ryan brings a whiff of fresh air to the mystery genre even though it is set in the 1870s. P.B Ryan is set to follow in the footsteps of great mystery writers like P. D. James and M. C Beaton. No aspect of this book indicates that this is a debut novel.
The book begins on a stormy night in 1864. A child is born to a maid in a Cape Cod mansion at the hands of our leading lady Nell Sweeney. The lady of the house takes a fancy to her and hires her as nursemaid to the child, who she decides to adopt. Our heroine is transferred to a new life altogether living in Boston’s high society with an eminent Brahmin family. Grief stricken at losing two sons in the Civil War, and crippled by illness, her employer lives vicariously through Nell. Three years later, a murder along the docks in Boston’s seedy section threatens to harm the Hewitt household.
Goaded on by her mistress, Nell Sweeney visits places no lady could, and talks to gamblers and fallen women trying to find out the truth. Aided by a fellow Irish detective, Nell must leave no stone unturned to ensure that an innocent man does not hang for another’s crime. The book ends with a climax that we don’t see coming.
Still Life with Murder is not for the squeamish. Some language describing wounds, bodies and murders etc. is quite graphic, and I think that tone will continue in future books too. The historical setting adds to the intrigue. I loved this book and am glad I have found a new mystery writer and woman detective to add to my reading list.