SPFBO Finalist review: Murder at Spindle Manor by Morgan Stang

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Morgan Stang lives in the humid part of Texas. He graduated from the University of Houston with a BBA. By day he works in accounting and by night he sleeps, and sometime in between he writes in a wide variety of fantasy genres, ranging from dark fantasy (The Bartram’s Maw series) to gaslamp murder mystery (The Lamplight Murder Mysteries) to cozy fantasy (The Bookshop and the Barbarian). He is a fan of all things nerdy, and lives with an immortal ball python.
Murder at Spindle Manor links: AmazonGoodreads

ADAM

This is why I SPFBO.

Loved, loved this book. A mashup of Agatha Christie, Clue, and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” in a single-location murder mystery that starts weird and ends up bananas. Strong, humorous dialogue, a compelling plot that grabs you from one of the best first lines I’ve read in quite some time, along with an engaging cast of suspects and victims made this an absolute joy to read.


ESMAY

Agatha Christie-style closed circle murder mystery meets steampunk fantasy meets gothic horror in the delightfully quirky Murder at Spindle Manor. Read at your own risk, this book is dangerously and unacceptably addictive.

Armed with her guns, gaslamp, and incredibly sharp wit, Huntress Isabeau has come to the last stop of her Hunt. She is dead-set on discovering which of the ten guests at Spindle Manor is secretly a shapeshifting monster, before it makes its way to the capital of Lamplight. But the insidious monster is not the only threat there, and before long the bodies start dropping. One night, two mysteries to solve; is she up to the task?

You see, when this story opened with the line: “Isabeau Agarwal stood before Spindle Manor at seven o’clock in the evening with every intention of killing someone.”, I knew I was going to be in for a good time. Right from the very first page, Stang just sets the tone and creates an all-consuming atmosphere that will keep you enchanted from start to finish.

I’ll admit that the first 15-20% of this story can feel a bit overwhelming with the quick introduction of this relatively large cast of named characters, but I think it really helps that they all have such incredibly big personalities. Izzie is a brilliant and refreshingly competent protagonist, and she is surrounded by a cast of wonderfully peculiar characters who all get their time to shine. Some of them are more loveable than others, but they all just have an unfairly endearing quality to them that makes it even more interesting to figure out who is secretly a murderer and/or monster in hiding.

And I know this plot might seem fairly straightforward, but as the title of chapter 20 indicates: “Everything Goes Completely Mad at Spindle Manor”. This story is extremely cleverly plotted, and there’s a truly infinite number of surprising twists and turns, gobsmacking world-building revelations, and hysterical character interactions that will have you cackling like a (slightly) crazy person.

In the end, the true mystery to me is how Stang was able to pack such a punch in so few pages. It’s almost impossible to come to terms with the fact that this entire story takes place over a single night, because there’s simply so much jam-packed into this delight of a little novel. Both the world and the characters remain largely shrouded in mystery and intrigue, yet at the same time they are so fully realised that it feels like I could walk into Spindle Manor right now and meet them all in the flesh.

I think the fact that I read this book in one day should tell you enough about how much I enjoyed it. And just when I thought the resolution was a bit anticlimactic, the author managed to throw in a final twist that pulled on my heartstrings and made the whole story come together in the most satisfying way possible.

With its haunting yet enchanting atmosphere, effortlessly funny characters, thrilling mysteries, and page-turning intrigue, Murder at Spindle Manor is a true genre-blendy gem of a book that perfectly straddles the line between being cosy and thrilling. I truly can’t recommend it highly enough!

CHELS


ŁUKASZ

I never suspected I needed a humorous gaslamp fantasy horror murder mystery in my life, but here we are. Murder at Spindle Manor was a delight. I devoured it in two sittings and immediately delved into the sequel upon finishing. What made it so immersive? I’ll try to answer this question.

Huntress Isabeau Agarwal lives to slay monsters. She serves Nobles (inhuman giants with dope powers) and in some ways is above the law. Her mission is simple – track down Doppelvyrm, a shape-shifting creature able to pose as a human, before it gets to the city of Lamplight. She ends up in a spooky haunted mansion, where someone is murdered, which makes her life more complicated. More work, two cases to solve.

Outside the mansion, there’s a tumultuous thunderstorm. Inside the mansion, all hell breaks loose. The story weaves together elements of comedy, horror, fantasy, and murder mystery, and it works on every level. Everyone gathered in the mansion has a motive for murder. Being trapped between a murderer and a skin-wearing monster isn’t exactly fun. Especially since Isabeau has until morning to unveil the true identity of the creature, or no one, including herself, will make it out alive. Why? That’s a spoiler.

I loved how well-crafted and well-timed comedic interludes were and how they balanced darker moments and broke the tension when needed. The sense of danger and suspense never goes away, and horror elements, while chilling, never fall into poor taste. The story kept me on the edge of my seat, but it also offered humorous relief and a hopeful tone amid its darker moments.

The narrative may seem pretty straightforward, but both mysteries (Who killed? Where’s the monster? Who’s the monster?) turn surprisingly complex, and I doubt anyone will guess the truth early on. The characters are vibrant and multi-dimensional, each with their own secrets and motives. And if you crave excitement, you’ll get lots of it, complete with seances, specters, mesmers, and monsters.

The review is already long, but I need to say a few words about the characters. Isabeau Agarwal is a great protagonist. She’s focused and excellent with guns and logic. Turns out she’s also good at solving murders and dealing with ghosts. She gives the impression of someone stern and cold, but when you get to know her, you realize she’s good people. Her sidekick, Evie, is incredibly fun. And then, there’s Penny: a young woman who recently passed away and was revived through the fusion of mesmer and medium magic, now existing as a “living doll person.” She cannot speak as her mouth is perpetually sewn shut – if it were ever unsealed, her soul would leave her body, and she’d die for good this time. You’ll come to love her.

Murder at Spindle Manor will keep you guessing until the very last page. I loved the book and highly recommend it to others.


OFFICIAL SPFBO RATING:



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