An Untimely Frost by Penny Richards

51ulnmhfqdlI received a copy of this book from Netgalley/the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I love historical mysteries, especially those set in the 19th century. I tend to prefer books set in England, but I was excited about the opportunity to read An Untimely Frost, which is set in 1881 Illinois. This is the first book in a new series by Penny Richards.

Lilly Long is an accomplished actress, who has spent most of her young life performing with a traveling theatre troupe. The book begins with the dramatic revelation that her new husband is a cheat and a con man, who assaults her and flees with her life savings.

Lilly is the impulsive type, so when she sees that the famous Pinkerton Agency is hiring, she sees an opportunity for a new career. Her employers are naturally skeptical that such a young woman would be able to handle the rigorous nature of being a detective, but Lilly points out that her skillset as an actress would prove useful in the field of private detection.

Lilly is sent to the small town of Vandalia to find out what happened to the town pastor who absconded with the congregation’s donations. No one has seen him or his family for over twenty years, and his house cannot be sold until he- as the rightful owner- is tracked down. Nobody seems to want to talk about the pastor, and when Lilly ventures out to the house, she finds quite the eerie scene: nothing has been touched in over twenty years, and it is clear that a terrible crime was committed there.

Is Lilly in over her head? Why do the townspeople react so strangely to any mention of the pastor? Is she being followed? Is someone determined to prevent her from discovering the truth?

There were several surprises, although it also seemed like there was a bit of an info dump during the big climactic scene. There was also an aspect of the aftermath of the disappearance that was intriguing, but I was left wanting more.

That said, I found this to be a satisfying mystery. Lilly is a fascinating protagonist. The reader has barely been introduced to her before her husband’s duplicity is discovered, but that doesn’t make the offense any less of a shock. Lilly is amicable, and it’s hard not to feel the same sense of satisfaction that she feels whenever she introduces herself as a Pinkerton agent.  I also loved the way that the townspeople seemed so uneasy about Lilly’s questions and conspired amongst themselves about what to do about her.  I wondered if she was going to stumble upon a Shirley Jackson-eque The Lottery situation.

I would recommend An Untimely Frost. Richards does a wonderful job with ambience. Her vivid descriptions of the house left untouched for twenty years were so eerie, and her descriptions of some of the food Lilly ate made my mouth water! I appreciated the hints that Richards left regarding the future of the series. I’m certainly hoping that Lilly’s work as a detective helps her to cross paths with her con-man husband. I would also like to see her receive resolution/closure regarding a traumatic event from her past. And of course, Lilly is a genuine Pinkerton agent, and must move on to her next case- I’m certainly looking forward to finding out what happens next!

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