by Nicole Glover
Series: Murder & Magic #2
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication Date: November 9, 2021
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Nicole Glover delivers the second book in her exciting Murder & Magic series of historical fantasy novels featuring Hetty Rhodes and her husband, Benjy, magic practitioners and detectives living in post–Civil War Philadelphia.
Nothing bothers Hetty and Benjy Rhodes more than a case where the answers, motives, and the murder itself feel a bit too neat. Raimond Duval, a victim of one of the many fires that have erupted recently in Philadelphia, is officially declared dead after the accident, but Hetty and Benjy’s investigation points to a powerful Fire Company known to let homes in the Black community burn to the ground. Before long, another death breathes new life into the Duval investigation: Raimond’s son, Valentine, is also found dead.
Finding themselves with the dubious honor of taking on Valentine Duval as their first major funeral, it becomes clear that his passing was intentional. Valentine and his father’s deaths are connected, and the recent fires plaguing the city might be more linked to recent community events than Hetty and Benji originally thought.
The Undertakers continues the adventures of murder and magic, where even the most powerful enchantments can’t always protect you from the ghosts of the past . . .
I want that cover as a poster, please! I was a humongous fan of the first book in this series, so of course I was ecstatic for more Hetty and Benjy. While it’s a different animal than the first in many ways, it was still an enthralling read. This is the second in the series, so while the mystery itself is self-contained, I think a new reader would be confused by the large cast of characters.
With the whereabouts of her sister settled, Hetty’s free to focus on their fledgling funeral home business… if only there was any business. Instead, mysterious fires have been plaguing the city, resulting in the death of another former Underground Railroad conductor. An investigation doesn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary, until another of his relatives dies in even more suspicious circumstances. Ghosts from their past have reappeared in Philadelphia, and they have their sights set on Benjy and Hetty.
“She could spin stories around the drops of starlight and whispers from the moon, but words eluded her when speaking of her true feelings, even to those closest to her.”
I adore Hetty. She readily admits to being “vexing and nosy”, two qualities that I absolutely adore in a character and which I think work particularly well for solving mysteries. She’s a master storyteller and she knows exactly how to use that skill to get information out of an uncooperative source or to distract them. Despite that, she has a hard time telling her friends and family how much they mean to her, preferring instead to let them take over her back garden or plan an elaborate present. Or in smaller ways, like choosing to sew in the library where Benjy is working rather than in her designated sewing room.
“It made a good story. After years of searching, she finally found out the truth, and with the love of the family she built around her she had the support to let the past go. It was a story Hetty wanted to be true, because she knew how much she had failed everyone in her life due to her focus on finding Esther. She ruined friendships, she lost time, and maybe more than she would ever know, prepared to leave as if going to retrieve a fallen star.”
In the last book, Hetty was still looking for her sister and trying to figure out her relationship with Benjy. With those both resolved, Hetty is finally free to deal with the ramifications of her search for her sister and its unsatisfying end. She’s unfailingly risked everything time and again for the least shred of information about her, and now she’s realizing exactly what she sacrificed for that. She worries her friends think her too fragile to share bad news with, that she’s ruptured their friendships. But what she hasn’t reckoned on is the family she’s found in Philadelphia. All of my favorite characters from the last book are back Oliver and Thomas, Darlene, Penelope and Sy. In addition, we get a few new characters, like Temperance, Bernice Tanner’s new assistant. She was amazing and completely stole every scene she was in!
The celestial magic that Hetty uses is still wonderful. Consisting of sixteen star sigils, it’s based on the constellations and is passed on orally through families or schools. It fills all the spaces of the world, from how baseball games are played to exactly why racists hate Darwin. Post-Civil War Philadelphia feels so amazingly well realized that I could imagine riding through it on a bike with Hetty. The mystery itself is nice and complicated, with plenty of red herrings and fast pacing. Part of that, I think, is that there are fewer insterstitials this time, as they’re just to provide background on the particular villain trailing them.
As for cons, there are references to other cases they’ve worked, which were very intriguing and made me wish they were explored more fully. While that’s in some ways a good thing, occasionally it also made me feel like I’d missed part of the story. I also would’ve liked more time with just Hetty and Benjy. Their relationship difficulties from the previous book have been resolved, so I know it’s not as dramatic, but the scenes where it’s just them are sweet and understatedly romantic. They’re so wonderful together, and it’s nice seeing them just having space to breathe.
Overall, I loved tagging along with Hetty and Benjy again, and can’t wait to see what their next adventure is.