Secret Lives
September 30, 2022

Book Review

Secret Lives

reviewed by Carolyn Scott


Seventy-five-year-old Ethel Fiona Cresswater runs a boarding house in Arlington, Virginia, where many of her tenants are government agents on temporary assignments in DC. Her distant cousin (double second cousin twice removed), Jesse also boards with her while he attends grad school.

Ethel might look like a sweet, little old lady, but she is actually a retired FBI agent who still has quite a few tricks up her sleeve. In addition to being fiercely intelligent and whip smart, she keeps in top shape by way of her daily Ruth Bader Ginsberg exercise regime.

When one of Ethel’s boarders, Secret Service agent Jonathan Finch is murdered right outside her boarding house, Ethel springs into action. After calling the police, she alerts the heads of both the Secret Service and the FBI, takes photos of the crime scene and hides the bag of cash Jonathan was bringing into his room. Jesse is taken aback by the decisive actions of his elderly cousin, but goes along with what she instructs him to tell the police.

Ethel Cresswater is well known to both the heads of the FBI and the secret Service and they know they’ll need to keep tabs on her as she undoubtably carries out her own investigation. However, Ethel is determined to find who killed her boarder and is more than equal to the task, roping in Jesse as her accomplice. Armed with a lifetime of spycraft, Ethel has no trouble knowing when she’s being tailed or how to deal with it and has many unique skills and useful contacts of her own. Their investigation leads them into a complex web of corruption involving counterfeit money, cryptocurrency, cybercrime and the dark web.

This is a refreshingly different crime novel with a delightfully unique woman leading the charge. It was amusing to watch the inter-agency competition and to see Ethel run rings around the agents trying to keep tabs on what she was up to. Jesse made for the perfect sidekick to Ethel and also made a delightful connection to Jonathan’s little son Davie, who suffers from brittle bone disease, and is keeping secrets of his own. The intricacies of cryptocurrency and virtual wallets were also well explained for the novice. There’s a lot packed into this fast-paced thriller with lots of twists, plenty of action, and a number of surprises as well as a good dose of humor and amusing asides from Ethel. It all made for an addictive and engaging read and I would love to see Ethel and Jesse back in action again in the future.

With thanks to Poisoned Pen Press via Netgalley for a copy to read. 

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