Note: This review originally appeared in The Season E-Zine's February mystery section.

Angel's Verdict by Mary Stanton
Berkley Prime Crime, February 2011

Rating: 9 (Excellent) (The Season's rating scale runs from 1 to 10)

For fans of: Nancy Atherton and Madelyn Alt

The two branches of Beaufort & Company, the Savannah law firm Brianna “Bree” Winston-Beaufort inherited from her uncle, couldn’t be more different. When Bree’s in residence at the Bay Street office, she and her mortal staff handle “temporal” matters – the same sorts of cases you’d expect to find at any other small firm in the city. When she heads across town to the Angelus Street office, however – that’s when things get interesting. This celestial branch of Beaufort & Company is staffed by angels and deals exclusively with sentencing appeals brought by condemned souls before the Celestial Courts.

The caseload at Bay Street – the only office that brings in any money – has been kind of light since the firm changed hands, so when aging actress Justine Colville makes an appointment to discuss changes to her will, Bree jumps at the business. When Justine shows up to meet with Bree, however, it becomes apparent that her will is the least of her concerns. Justine has been cast to play a role in Bitter Tide, a TV movie about the murder of 1950s B-movie actress Haydee Quinn, and it seems someone is trying to sabotage the production and make it appear as though Justine is to blame. Bree agrees to look into the matter, but after some digging, she discovers that the mystery surrounding the movie might be linked to the original mystery of Haydee’s murder. Who really killed Haydee Quinn? Did the police send the wrong man to his death? Who’s responsible for the trouble on the set of Bitter Tide, and why is someone so determined to shut down the movie and end Justine Coleville’s career? Does Bree have what it takes to find the answer to these questions and bring justice to those involved – both living and dead?

Angel’s Verdict is the fourth in Mary Stanton’s Beaufort & Company Mystery series. I don't know what I expected when I picked up Angel's Verdict, but it wasn't this. Stanton’s book is a pulp mystery wrapped in an urban fantasy wrapped in a traditional mystery, and it's fantastic. Angel’s Verdict has a marvelous sense of atmosphere, the pacing is perfect, and the mysteries, both past and present, are engaging and incredibly well-constructed. Stanton’s prose and dialogue are a pleasure to read. And with regard to the more otherworldly aspects of Bree’s existence, Stanton does exactly the right amount of world-building – enough to prevent you from becoming confused but never so much as to distract you from the story.

Stanton’s characters are fabulous to a one. From the tortured and deeply flawed Dent to the regal and mysterious angels who work with Bree, even Stanton’s minor players are complex and richly textured with their own unique motivations. And for her part, Bree makes a wonderful heroine – strong, steely, and determined, yet still warm and caring underneath it all. I love that she can tell the more mystical side of her profession is changing her in some way, but she isn’t sure how, and she’s at least a little frightened about the potential consequences of those changes. Bree’s budding romance with Savannah Police Lieutenant Sam Hunter has real potential, as well. I would have liked to see little more interaction between Bree and Sam in Angels’ Verdict because the chemistry they share is quite compelling, but that's not really what this book is about. Rather than complain, then, I'll just have to go out and pick up the rest of the series.

Looking for a fun new series that’s a little off the beaten path? Check out Mary Stanton’s Beaufort & Company Mysteries; you’ll be glad you did.