Relative Fortunes (A Julia Kydd Novel)

Written by Marlowe Benn
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

1924, Manhattan. On her 25th birthday, Julia Kydd will finally be in control of her inheritance. She travels from London to New York to sign the appropriate papers, where she learns her older brother is contesting their father’s will—trying to get it all. Without the money, Julia will lose everything: her lover, her London apartment, and her budding, fine-book-printing venture, Capriole Press. In New York, Julia reconnects with former school friend Glennis, whose aunt Naomi dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances. Glennis’s family declares suicide and the aunt is quickly cremated. Glennis is distraught and confused. When Julia relates the story to her fickle brother, he comes up with an absurd wager: if Julia can discover that the aunt was murdered, he will no longer contest the will.

Benn has created a terrific mystery. Although from a wealthy family, Naomi was a suffragette who gave her small allowance and all her energies to the Empire State Equal Rights Union—much to the horror of her high society family. The more Julia investigates, the more complicated the mystery becomes. Suspects abound. Julia discovers that her wealth has given her the privilege of being “modern” and “independent,” choices a poor woman (which she may soon be) doesn’t have. The powerlessness of women, both rich and poor, is deftly interwoven with the mystery. The mirroring of Naomi’s difficulties and Julia’s current problems is cleverly managed. A well-done debut. I eagerly await the next Julia Kydd mystery.