Book Review: Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn

Publisher Summary:

In 1920s New York, the price of a woman’s independence can be exorbitant—even fatal.

In 1924 Manhattan, women’s suffrage is old news. For sophisticated booklover Julia Kydd, life’s too short for politics. With her cropped hair and penchant for independent living, Julia wants only to launch her own new private press. But as a woman, Julia must fight for what’s hers—including the inheritance her estranged half brother, Philip, has challenged, putting her aspirations in jeopardy.

When her friend’s sister, Naomi Rankin, dies suddenly of an apparent suicide, Julia is shocked at the wealthy family’s indifference toward the ardent suffragist’s death. Naomi chose poverty and hardship over a submissive marriage and a husband’s control of her money. Now, her death suggests the struggle was more than she could bear.

Julia, however, is skeptical. Doubtful of her suspicions, Philip proposes a glib wager: if Julia can prove Naomi was in fact murdered, he’ll drop his claims to her wealth. Julia soon discovers Naomi’s life was as turbulent and enigmatic as her death. And as she gets closer to the truth, Julia sees there’s much more at stake than her inheritance…

My Thoughts:

This book was the bee’s knees!! It checked a lot of boxes for me, and so much more. I love mysteries, and the 20s, but this book took those ideas to the next level. At first, it seems like a simple murder mystery, where a high society woman who happens to also be clever mixes in attempting to solve it. Julia however is much more than just a clever rich lady looking for a distraction. She is self-possessed, has a lover, independent, intelligent – and currently waiting for her 25th birthday when she can take control of her own inheritance and not depend on her older brother to dole an allowance out to her.

Julia becomes embroiled in the mystery of Naomi Rankin’s death through the admission of her friend Glennis, who is shocked by her sister Naomi’s sudden death, which appears as a suicide. Yet neither woman is buying that. Julia is pulled further into the mystery when Glennis invites her to a private family meeting about Naomi’s passing, and is shocked by how the family is more anxious to sweep it all under the rug without a second look. That family is a piece of work, and negotiating their family politics and relationships was a bit confusing – there were so many! All of them with different motives and personal agendas too, it seems…

As she and her friend dig deeper into what really happened that night to Naomi, Julia is also facing a few challenges herself, most importantly the fact that her brother Phillip has challenged the will, stating that he is entitled to the family fortune, which would leave Julia with nothing. She imagines her own dreams going up in smoke, of being an independent woman, and of continuing on with her own private press of books, Capriole. When Phillip proposes a wager regarding the cause of Naomi’s death, Julia doesn’t hesitate to accept.

Julia is led up and down and all around trying to solve this mystery, and her discoveries shed light on what life really was like for a woman in the 20s, where their financial freedom and sexual freedoms were not necessarily their own, as Julia herself comes to realize. We think of the Roaring Twenties as good times, jazz, dancing until dawn, and drinking, but we forget about the women fighting in the trenches for women’s rights. Sadly, even now, not every state has ratified the Equal Rights Amendment which is a proposed amendment that will guarantee equal rights to every citizen regardless of gender, in regards to divorce, property, employment, and other matters. Still to the day. Almost a hundred years later and the fight still continues. Benn’s novel does a wonderful job of marrying the mystery to the early days of the women’s right movement, and it fit the story perfectly.

I loved this book! I love even more that this book is listed as number one in the Julia Kydd series, meaning there will be more! I can’t wait to read more about Julia and where her journey will take her.

 

Thanks to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.