Still Life With Murders was written by P.B. Ryan. This is the first book of the Nell Sweeney Mysteries. The plot was set after the American Civil War in 1860s. August and Viola Hewitt, from a well-known family, have four children. Their eldest, William and Robbie, were enlisted as war volunteers. Later, the two were captured by the enemy, thrown at Andersonville prison camp, and eventually died due to dysentery. Several years have passed, a piece of shocking news was brought by Leo Thorpe claiming that William was indeed alive. Lady Viola was more glad than shocked because her eldest miraculously survived. However, the happiness was short-lived as Thorpe discloses Will’s current state — he was detained for murdering a man named Ernest Tulley.
Viola, out of desperation, asked Nell Sweeney (her adopted daughter’s governess) to visit her son at the prison and hear the truth directly from his mouth. Because of Nell’s motherly relationship with her, it will be difficult to refuse her wishes. As Nell meets William, his concealed past will be unwillingly brought to light to prove his innocence.
The author did a good job of peeling away the layers of each character at a consistent pace. Right enough to maintain their mysterious disposition and my undivided attention up until the end. The prominent characters, William Hewitt and Nell Sweeney are both imperfect. Not the usual rich-handsome-man meet the innocent-beautiful-lady scenario. The war changed Will drastically particularly upon the death of his beloved brother Robbie. After escaping Andersonville, he entered several gambling dens and drowned himself with opium. Both are necessary for him to survive and ease the pain caused by his leg injury. Will chose the difficult life rather than returning to his family. Nell, on the other hand, has experienced the worst which shaped her character at an early age. She worked as Dr. Greaves’ assistant nurse prior to her employment with the Hewitts. The doctor helped her recover from her bad experience at the hands of a former lover. Nell made sure to keep in mind everything she learned from Greaves about medical studies. She’s clever, learned, has an artistic skill, and natural affection for children. But, Nell too has dark sides that she’s too afraid and ashamed to share.
Then they met under a serious circumstance. Nell witnessed Will’s dire state. The attraction isn’t there initially. Will is always trying to avoid his family, his friend Jack and Nell. But because of Nell’s stubbornness, he just let her get involved in the murder case. And unnoticeably, the seed of affection has been planted.
The story has an ample background of the war between the American states in 1860s and it will also showcase the life of Boston Elites or Boston Brahmins where the Hewitts are a part of. I’m greatly attached to the characters and I’m a hundred percent eager to read the succeeding books. The book consists of long chapters. In a way, similar to Anne Perry’s writing style where the author consumes the time with lots of conversation and the narrator’s pov necessary to move the story and to delve deeper into each character. It is not necessarily boring as P.B. Ryan’s writing is, in a way, fast pace and straightforward.
I rate this book 4 out 5 stars. Still Life with Murder is a great piece of a murder mystery story. The minus 1 point is due to the context of an inappropriate relationship that I find off particularly to the main character. But I genuinely enjoyed it and excited to see how Will and Nell’s relationship would progress.
Do read this book if you like the combination of romance and murder mystery plus the historical setting. I won’t recommend this to young audiences or readers who might not want the subject of unpleasant deaths and war experiences, opium addiction, suicide, sexual content, and inappropriate relationships.