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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Secret Lives

ISBN: 978-1728258300

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Publication Date: 10/11/2022

Format: Other

My Rating: 5 Stars (ARC)

Secret Lives is a zany, suspenseful mystery for fans of unexpected-yet-badass female sleuths. Meet former FBI agent-turned-boardinghouse landlady Ethel Fiona Crestwater. She may look old and frail, but she can outthink and outshoot most men—and women—half her age.

At 75-years-old, Ethel Fiona Crestwater is used to being underestimated. She looks like someone's grandma, though she's never married or had children; petite and a bit frail, she's not a threat to anyone. Or is she...? Ethel runs a boarding house for government agents, and when someone murders one of her boarders, she springs into action—much to the surprise of her distant cousin Jesse, who has recently come to stay with her while he attends university. As he watches her photograph the crime scene, conceal evidence, and speed-dial the Secret Service Director, Jesse realizes that there's much more to Ethel than appearances suggest.

But when Jesse is assaulted and the gym bag full of cash Ethel had hidden is stolen from the basement, the pair decides it's time to launch their own unofficial investigation. With no one to trust but each other, these double-first-cousins-twice-removed form an unlikely bond, and learn that the only thing truly worth risking your life for is family.

My Review

Mark de Castrique introduces a witty and brilliant female leading character that fans will adore—75-year-old landlord Ethel Fiona Crestwater. In his latest suspense thriller, SECRET LIVES, a retired FBI agent—a legend with all sorts of connections to the Secret Service and FBI!

Intricately plotted a fast-paced murder mystery with an engaging cast of characters filled with humor and a tenacious unstoppable heroine.

Ethel keeps things under wraps in her town of Arlington, VA, where she has a home and rents rooms to government agents called Ethel's dormitory.

Except for Jesse Cooper, her double first cousin twice removed, who is staying with her while attending the American University in Washington, DC. He has no clue about the skills of his elderly cousin, but he will soon find out, firsthand!

She has some famous boarders like the head of the Secret Service (Cory) and Arlington police detective (Frank), to name a few.

When one tenant Jonathan Finch (SS agent), is shot in front of her house, Ethel steps in and is in full action. She must find his killer and the motive behind his death.

Finch had about ten thousand dollars of cryptocurrency left. An incriminating gym bag of counterfeit currency was momentarily forgotten. The coins in the second wallet had a current value of more than twenty million. Where did a Secret Service agent get that kind of money? Was the private key on Finch's laptop? Where was the key with the numbers?

Cryptocurrency and government corruption!

Ethel has the "mad skills" of someone much younger, so do not let the age fool you, but she enjoys playing the card of the elderly and helpless when necessary. She protects her roomers.

She has one goal. JUSTICE! If she has to bend a few rules along the way, so be it. Now she has her sidekick cousin to assist!

Lots of action, excitement, and danger; plus some personal relationships with sweet Davie, Jonathan's son, who has Osteogenesis Imperfecta - fragile bones and a pleasure meeting him and his mom. A nice tie-in here.

I LOVED ETHEL!!!! She is one tough cookie, and you want to be like her and have her watching out for you!

Fun, witty, clever, and twisty!

In addition, there is much to learn about Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies that are inaccessible to their owners because private keys have been lost, which I found fascinating. Quite the education.

Also, UFOs do exist—United Flying Octogenarians. Ethel is too young to be a member, but her friends' Pete and Curt are worthy examples of this elite group.

Highly entertaining, fans of Mark de Castrique and fans of author Janet Evanovich's upcoming Going Rogue (11/1) also about bitcoins— will enjoy this zany, wild ride! Hope we see more of Ethel in the future!

My first book by the author, and look forward to reading more!

A special thank you to #PoisonedPenPress and #NetGalley for a gifted eARC and print copy in exchange for an honest review.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

Pub Date: Oct 11, 2022

My Rating: 5 Stars



"This light and lively series launch introduces 75-year-old Ethel Fiona elderly Nancy Drew: sure of herself and her convictions, and ready to bend a few rules to achieve her goal of seeing justice done."

―Publishers Weekly

"De Castrique’s uber-twisty narrative consistently entertains...A taut and crisply told thriller whose charmingly shady protagonist triumphs over a labyrinthine plot."

― Kirkus Reviews

"A high energy foray into cryptocurrency and government corruption. Yes, wise-cracking Ethel is highly entertaining, but to de Castrique’s credit, she’s no cutesy stereotype of a gun-wielding grandma. She’s got her own story, and it’s a complex one. "

― First Clue

"Add another wise, experienced senior sleuth to a group that includes Richard Osman’s “Thursday Murder Club” series and even Miss Marple. De Castrique’s quirky characters and offbeat twists will appeal to Osman’s readers."

― Library Journal

About the Author

Mark de Castrique grew up in the mountains of western North Carolina where many of his novels are set. He's a veteran of the television and film production industry, has served as an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte teaching The American Mystery, and he's a frequent speaker and workshop leader. He and his wife, Linda, live in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Longer Bio

Mark was born in Hendersonville, NC, near Asheville. He went straight from the hospital to the funeral home where his father was the funeral director and the family lived upstairs. The unusual setting sparked his popular Barry Clayton series and launched his mystery writing career.

Mark is the author of twenty-one novels: seven set in the fictional NC mountain town of Gainesboro, eight set in Asheville, three in Washington D.C., one science thriller in the year 2030, and two mysteries written for Middle Graders and set in the Charlotte region.

His novels have received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist. The CHICAGO TRIBUNE wrote,“As important and as impressive as the author’s narrative skills are the subtle ways he captures the geography – both physical and human – of a unique part of the American South.”

Mark is a veteran of the broadcast and film production business. In Washington D.C., he directed numerous news and public affairs programs and received an EMMY Award for his documentary film work. Through his company, MARK et al., he writes and produces videos for corporate and broadcast clients.

His years in Washington inspired his DC thrillers, THE 13TH TARGET, involving a terrorist plot against The Federal Reserve, THE SINGULARITY RACE, a winner-take-all quest for Artificial Intelligence, and SECRET LIVES, featuring feisty and fearless ex-FBI agent Ethel Fiona Crestwater.

Mark and his wife Linda have two daughters: the older, Melissa Thomson, is the author of the Keena Ford Journals, a children’s series published by Penguin Press. His younger daughter, Lindsay, works as a communications consultant in Washington D.C.

Mark lives in Charlotte, but he and his wife Linda can be often found in the NC mountains or the nation’s capital.







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