The Conductors (A Murder & Magic Novel)

Written by Nicole Glover
Review by Jill E. Marshall

In this inventive debut, Nicole Glover mixes historical fiction, mystery, and fantasy to tell the story of Hetty and Benjy Rhodes, magical detectives in post-Civil War Philadelphia. The novel follows a recent trend of using magic or fantasy to reimagine Black history (Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, Coates’ The Water Dancer, Johnson’s Trouble the Saints).

The discovery of the body of Hetty and Benjy’s murdered friend Charlie initiates the mystery and action. A magical star symbol is carved into his body, which raises questions about the use of magic and the role of the Black community in his death. The present-time scenes of Hetty working as a seamstress and solving the mystery in Philadelphia are interspersed with past scenes of the main character in slavery and then as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

The beginning is a slow burn, especially for a mystery novel. Hetty is a brilliantly realized character, but the rest of the players are mostly one-dimensional, and I had a difficult time keeping them straight. I didn’t fully understand the magical system, but perhaps readers more fluent in fantasy tropes will. The book appears to be the first in a series, and I look forward to seeing what the sequel adds.