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SPFBO 9 Official Review

Murder at Spindle Manor

by Morgan Stang

 

Mysteries abound in Spindle Manor.

For Huntress Isabeau Agarwal, the countryside inn is the last stop in a deadly hunt. Armed with gaslamp and guns, she tracks an insidious beast that wears the skin of its victims, mimicking them perfectly. Ten guests reside within Spindle Manor tonight, and the creature could be any one of them. Confined by a torrential thunderstorm and running out of time, Isabeau has until morning to discover the liar, or none of them—including her—will make it out alive.

But her inhuman quarry isn’t the only threat residing in Spindle Manor.

Gunshots.

A slammed door.

A dead body.

Someone has been killed, and a hunt turns into a murder investigation. Now with two mysteries at her feet and more piling up, Isabeau must navigate a night filled with lies and deception. In a world of seances and specters, mesmers and monsters, the unexpected is hiding around every corner, and every move may be her last.


John Mauro:

“Isabeau Agarwal stood before Spindle Manor at seven o’clock in the evening with every intention of killing someone.”

Murder at Spindle Manor is an ingeniously constructed murder mystery by Morgan Stang set in a creepy mansion within a gaslamp fantasy world. Think of it as Agatha Christie meets Neil Gaiman, with a quirky sense of humor that rivals Knives Out.

Isabeau Agarwal is perfect as the lead protagonist of Murder at Spindle Manor, combining a sharp intellect with the fighting skills and marksmanship of a professional sniper. Isabeau is a Huntress, tasked with tracking and exterminating a terrible monster known as the Doppelvyrm:

“Allow me to speak of the Doppelvyrm. They fear no light, for their only dream is to become human, and in the pursuit of that dream, they will kill countless men and women…The Doppelvyrm is a parasite. A grisly, ghastly parasite.”

The Doppelvyrm can perfectly mimic its human victims, adopting their physical form and absorbing their memories. Isabeau’s hunt brings her to Spindle Manor, where she suspects that one of the ten guests is actually the Doppelvyrm in disguise:

“Ten little guests, all collected and sat, met and filed away. Ten souls in one room, one of whom was not who they said they were.”

The influence of Agatha Christie is obvious from the quote above and from the general setup of the novel. Morgan Stang gleefully embraces and/or subverts a range of murder mystery tropes, including a mentor-mentee relationship reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s pairing of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Playing the role of Watson in Murder at Spindle Manor is Evie, an apprentice of sorts to Isabeau who gives our protagonist the opportunity to explain her thought process out loud as she considers various hypotheses. Evie herself is an interesting character who becomes more intriguing over the course of the novel.

With its large cast of characters and fast-paced plot, I was pleasantly surprised that I became emotionally invested in several of the characters, especially Isabeau. Morgan Stang did an outstanding job bringing each of these characters vibrantly to life and building sympathy for several of them.

The fantasy world of Murder at Spindle Manor is also a treat, featuring necromancy, a variety of bizarre and frightening creatures, and a healthy dose of steampunk. There is plenty of humor here as well, such as the author including herself on the guest list at Spindle Manor.

Murder at Spindle Manor has it all: mystery, fantasy, horror, comedy, and even a touch of romance. All of this comes together to make a perfectly plotted whodunnit amounting to the craziest game of Clue that I’ve ever played.


Whitney Reinhart:

I enjoyed sleuthing alongside Isabeau Agarwal to discover the culprit behind the Murder at Spindle Manor. I second John’s sentiments that this story has a little bit of everything woven tightly together to create a fun little whodunit. Agarwal is a no-nonsense hunter on a mission – to destroy a dopplevyrm which has possessed the body of one of the manor’s guests. Because the trail of bodies mirrors the itinerary of an odd assortment of friends who’ve been traveling together for weeks, she is sure the creature has infiltrated the group. She must expose and kill the imposter before it can make its murderous way into the city. During the investigation, she uncovers more than she bargained for and unravels complicated relationships, convoluted pretenses, and petty jealousies harbored by people who know each other maybe too well. Much to the chagrin of the Manor’s proprietress, Madame Blanchet, the house is forced to divulge secrets of its own along the way. Living dolls and malformed spiders scurry along its halls and hidden passages – witnessing and knowing what happens in the quiet moments. After all, “it’s awful rude to be accusing someone of committing murder and all, but, well, it’s pretty rude to be committing murder too now.

All in all, this book is a nice diversion for readers who want something a little different.


Luke Winch: 

If I were asked to market this book, I would say its Agatha Christie meets Clue (Anyone remember that wonderful 1985 film with Tim Curry based on the boardgame Cluedo?) and a whiff of The Witcher. Stang manages to deftly take us through each stage of the investigation with a confident hand, keeping up a brisk pace from start to finish.

I loved the world this mystery was set in, filled with hunters, monsters, ghosts and living dolls. Stang creates a wonderful atmosphere throughout, just about maintaining a good balance between humour and suspense. There is wonderful tongue in cheek tone to the story that lends itself well to the closed room mystery and the author’s sense of humour elevated the book and really clicked with me. (See chapter 13).

The mystery itself I thought was well crafted, the clues carefully planted in front of our eyes, some I picked up on, some I completely missed until going back through the book. That kind of interaction is something I particularly love about this story. Our cast of suspects range from a doctor with a delicate stomach, a veteran soldier and a bitter socialite. We are also graced with some fascinating in-world creatures and monsters – one of which is the quarry of our Huntress. The Nobles are a particular creation by Stang that I want to know more about.

In terms of character, I do feel that Isabeau was kept at arm’s length and I wanted to get to know her more, possibly through some quieter moments. The same with her sidekick Evie who was one of my favourites characters in the book and took much delight in tormenting Isabeau with her overzealous curiosity. So much of the story is focused on her investigation that we aren’t really invited in to Isabeau’s heart or mind. Maybe we will in future books, for which I will definitely read of the back of this one.

In terms of sheer entertainment, Murder at Spindle Manor delivered. It’s a fast read so a perfect palette cleanser between your epic chonks, and the centre mystery holds up well, giving you enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes. If you like a good murder mystery, the tongue in cheek humour of Terry Pratchett and the inventive world and monsters The Witcher, I think you will enjoy this book.


Taylor (Maed Between The Pages):

This was a delightful story that captured me from page one. The world building and character development that Stang is able to achieve in just the first few chapters demonstrates deft writing craftsmanship and set the stage for the addictive narrative to come. I couldn’t put this book down for the life of me. It was fast-paced, but not overly so- just enough to keep me on my toes wanting more. This well-timed pacing combined with the murder mystery kept me turning pages at a rapid pace. However, what sets this above a typical one-and-done mystery for me is the intriguing world it takes place in. The creatures that inhabit this universe and the magic that surrounds them tastes like more to me, and I would love to see it expanded later in the series.

I ended up giving this a 9 out of 10, and plan to continue reading the next instalments!


Team Score: John 9, Whitney 7.5, Shaggy 6.6, Taylor 9, Rebecca 10, Luke 8 Final Score: 8.5


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