ARC Review: Secret Lives by Mark de Castrique

Hello Ruminative Fam!! How are you? I’m back again with another book review.. This one was super entertaining and captivating. With an older female badass protagonist, what else can you expect tho🤭 Secret Lives is a murder mystery that is more focused on the police procedure, just like watching a detective show. Intrigued? Let’s get to the review, shall we?

Everybody has something to hide!

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.

Name: Secret Lives
Author: Mark De Castrique
Type: Standalone
Genre: Mystery, Psychological thriller, Crime Fiction, Police Procedural
Publish Date: 11 Oct, 2022

Secret Lives follows 75-years-old Ethel Crestwater who runs a boarding house for government agents. When one of the boarders is murdered and her distant cousin assaulted in her house, she decides to take things into her own hands. Ethel along with Jesse, her double-first-cousin-twice-removed, embarks on the journey of truth and justice, only to find that everyone around her has something to hide… as if they are living secret lives..

This was an incredible read, a murder mystery that took me on an adventure. It was more like watching a detective show but with an older, female and equally badass protagonist..

The plot was veryy interesting and woven around murder, desperation and greed. There was never a dull moment in the plot and I thought there would be only two POVs – Ethel’s and Jesse’s.. but there were so many characters involved and we look through each of their POVs connecting the plot in the most captivating way.

The ‘double-first-cousin-twice-removed’ concept was something I had noo idea about.. from this book I got to learn about such a relationship. The humour around it was well done initially but frequent use made it lose its charm. The mystery aspect was interesting and there were twists and turns but they failed to be thrilling. Not that this made me feel like not reading more, but I just wanted that thrill connected with the mystery, that this book lacked.

Ethel Crestwater, the female protagonist was such a badass.. From being the mastermind in solving the murder mystery to flying planes and picking locks by herself, she has done all. I loved the way how her past life was introduced and how she made her way up when women were not given any chances to grow. An inspiring character for sure!

Jesse’s character didn’t have much depth and so there’s not much of a connection with him. There were other characters interlinked in the story but only Detective Mancini stood out among them, a good and trustworthy detective who knew Ethel and supported her throughout the plot. But, all my heart goes to Davie🥺🥺 This kid deserves all the love and happiness in the world!!

Overall, Secret Lives was an incredible murder mystery book filled with conspiracy, heartwarming relationships and humour-filled moments. The thrill factor was very low but it didn’t hinder my reading. I was fully immersed in the plot and enjoyed the technicalities of the investigation.

Thanks to NetGalley, Mark de Castrique and Poisoned Pen Press for the e-copy in exchange for an honest review.

Mark de Castrique 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.”

Do you like mysteries? What is the latest mystery book you have read?? Let me know in the comments!
P.S. This is my 100th post on this blog and I’m so grateful and happy to have progressed so much!!

Thank you for reading, Ruminative Fam!

© Ruminative Philomath (2022) by Deeksha Bhardwaj. All rights reserved.



  1. This book sounds really fun (as far as murder can be fun). I love the idea of a 75-year-old bad-ass protagonist. Thanks for sharing your review and recommendation, Deeksha. And congrats on 100 posts. That’s no small accomplishment. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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