Orphaned at eleven and raised in the theater, Lilly Long has not known anything but make-believe and role playing. After she is jilted by her husband—who steals both her innocence and her savings—Lilly decides she’s going to defend the many other helpless women in the world. To do this, she sets out to become a Pinkerton. Headstrong and determined, Lilly does whatever it takes to win over Allan Pinkerton and his two sons. She is conditionally brought on, and her first case is, on the surface, a simple one: locate a missing family—a local pastor, his wife, and their children.
When Lilly arrives in 1880s Vandalia, Illinois, she assumes that she’ll be able to wrap up her case quickly and return home triumphant. What she finds is a town that clamps down in an antagonistic silence at the mere mention of the Pastor or his family. Lilly is forced to draw on all her theater experience to wiggle her way into the fabric of a town whose wounds are close to the surface, and whose scars are still too tender to be dealt with. Beyond Vandalia’s resistance, Lilly begins to have concerns with a boxer who seems to be shadowing her every move. As the stakes, and threats on her life, rise, she begins to wonder if the two are connected.
Penny Richards has written a fun, feisty protagonist in Lilly Long. The prose is crisp and the tempo paces nicely to a finish that sees Lilly needing every bit of her cunning. The motives for the family’s disappearance and subsequent crimes I felt were a bit odd, but those did not impact the overall book. A nice read beside the pool.
Review originally appeared in the Historical Novels Review August 2016