Whispers of Warning by Jessica Estevao is the second book in the Change of Fortune Mystery series, where Ruby Proulx’s new life in Orchard Beach, Maine, faces some sinister complications.
According to the Maine Visitors Bureau, Old Orchard Beach “has been welcoming tourists and families to its beautiful 7-mile stretch of perfect sand beach for over 170 years.” Historical mystery Whispers of Warning (A Change of Fortune Mystery #2) capitalizes on the seaside setting as well as the currents of change in social and political life at the time.
It is also the setting for a murder most watery. “Renowned Spiritualist and outspoken suffragist Sophronia Foster Eldridge” checks into Miss Honoria Belden’s Belden Hotel for a month. Honoria Belden is a shrewd businesswoman—although her hotel is by no means the largest in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, she provides both accommodation and a variety of spiritual experiences.
Eldridge plans to capitalize on the excitement in the town around the opening of the magnificent new steel pier. Huge crowds are expected for the ribbon cutting on July 2, 1898, because at 1,825 feet, the Old Orchard Beach pier was the longest in the world. Unfortunately, before the pier opens to tourists, Eldridge’s body is “found floating in the saltwater plunge pool of a local bathhouse.” She is fully dressed, and her coat is weighed down by rocks in its pockets.
Readers were introduced to Ruby Proulx in the first Change of Fortune Mystery, Whispers Beyond the Veil. She recently returned to her mother’s childhood home in Maine and now lives with her hotelier aunt. Ruby has a talent for solving mysteries. She is perceptive, persistent, and clever. Intriguingly, she also seems to have a talent for the paranormal—her inner voice accurately directs her to the crux of seemingly insoluble problems.
Partially reformed con artist Ruby Proulx is starting to feel at home in her aunt’s seaside hotel. She loves the feeling of being rooted in one place and also feels a sense of purpose as she helps her aunt keep her business afloat by acting as a psychic medium for the hotel’s metaphysically inclined guests.
Ruby and her aunt are devoted supporters of women’s suffrage. To have a star of the movement staying with them is a feather in their cap. Ruby, however, discovers that Miss Eldridge can be ruthless and manipulative to achieve her desired ends. Sophronia sits in on a reading Ruby has with two sisters. Afterward, she makes a request—more of a demand—of Ruby, stating that the young woman “exercises a certain leniency with the truth if it serves the greater good”:
“Are you implying that you believe me to be a fraud as well?”
“Please do not be offended. You have my greatest admiration. You needn’t try to convince me of your talents. I assure you I do not care what part of what you do is genuine and which part requires a well-honed knack for observation and lucky guesses. What I do care about is how we could help each other to have what we both want most.” She gave me another of her smiles but this time it left me feeling chilled.
“What is it that you think I want most?”
“The ongoing success of this hotel? Being seen as the premier Spiritualist hotel in the nation, perhaps?”
Sophronia wants Ruby to appear on stage with her and give a platform psychic reading—a reading “conducted from the stage.” Because Ruby has a private need to keep a low public profile, she wants to refuse, but she feels unable to say no. Sophronia is found dead before the event, as it happens, and Ruby uses her “well-honed knack for observation and lucky guesses” to suss out the killer.
Ruby is a likable character, a modern young woman of her time with a hard past and a future that holds great possibilities. Estevao deftly combines historical accuracy with a tantalizing tale of whodunit. Readers will want more of the Change of Fortune Mysteries.
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Janet Webb aka @JanetETennessee has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry … I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.
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