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Still Life With Murder (Nell Sweeney Mysteries #1)

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  5,401 Ratings  ·  611 Reviews
An alternate cover edition can be found here.

Book #1 of P.B. Ryan’s bestselling historical mystery series featuring Boston governess Nell Sweeney and opium-smoking former battle surgeon Will Hewitt. Long thought to have died during the Civil War, Will is arrested for murder, and it's up to Nell to prove his innocence.
Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published July 5th 2010 by Hawkley Books (first published July 1st 2003)
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Review written June 3, 2016

4 1/2 Stars - A wonderful audiobook gem

Still Life With Murder is the first book in the historical mystery serial, Nell Sweeney Mysteries with five books so far. I had hopes for a good series start. — They are all fully met.

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I listened to the $2 WSfV audiobook (incl a freebie kindle) — 9:45 hours very well narrated by Leigh Ryan.


Boston 1868

« Young Irish immigrant Nell Sweeney is governess for the adopted daughter of wealt
Jun 22, 2015 ☮Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nook, read-in-2015
This was a really good book, well written and descriptive of a time I don't often read about, 1860s Boston. Nell is a girl with a past, who is hired to become governess to an adopted baby in a wealthy home. The only thing her employer knows about her is that she was employed as a nurse of sorts and has a good head on her shoulders. Three years later as Nell sets about to help her employer free a son of murder charges, Nell's past transgressions, now known only to Nell, are slowly revealed to the ...more
Still Life with Murder
4 Stars

Three years after the end of the Civil War, Nell Sweeney, a young woman born into poverty, finds her way into the home of the Hewitts, a wealthy Bostonian family. When William Hewitt, a former military surgeon and black sheep of the family, is accused of murder, his mother and Nell’s benefactor, begs the young governess to help her eldest child. To uncover the truth, Nell must delve deep into Boston’s dark and dangerous underbelly, but the greatest threat might just
This is a wonderful read. It starts off a bit slow, but quickly gains speed and at times I didn't want to put it down. The mystery aspect is well written, and I was pleased not to have been able to guess the outcome. The historical aspect was also well written, it takes into account the position of women in the time period while also allowing the heroine freedom to run around investigating a murder. The descriptions of Boston were fun too, reading about the town as it was post Civil War. And for ...more
Jane Stewart
Mar 31, 2014 Jane Stewart rated it it was ok
Shelves: mystery
I was not entertained. I wanted it to be over.

If you like murder mysteries with the feel of a jigsaw puzzle, then you might like this. I was not drawn to the characters or the events. Part of the time I was angry at the accused guy for not defending himself or saying anything to anyone that could help him. It’s like he wanted to hang for murder. There is a surprise at the end which should appeal to some.

Viola is in a wheelchair. Her son is accused of murder. She asks Nell to take messages to her
Judy Iliff
Jun 13, 2011 Judy Iliff rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
What a happy accident this was! Still Life With Murder (a Nell Sweeney mystery formerly Gilded Age Mystery) was a free download on Kindle. As of a couple of hours ago, I bought the other 5 in the series.

The setting for this book is Boston and Cape Cod shortly after the Civil War. Nell Sweeney has been a doctor's assistant apprentice of sorts for a doctor on Cape Cod. When she goes with the doctor to the home of a summer resident, she makes such an impression on the wife, Viola Hewitt, that she's
Jul 17, 2012 Marla rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kindle-library
I had bookmarked this book when browsing Amazon, but I couldn't see paying $7.99, the price of a new paperback, for an ebook I didn't know anything about. Then it came up on the free book list recently and I snatched it up. I'm glad I did because I loved it, and I love that the next five books in the series are currently priced at $3.99, a more reasonable price for an ebook.

I thought it was a well balance book, the author created Nell as a character with a background that made it very reasonable
Jul 29, 2016 Merry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 3-star
A typical murder mystery set in post-Civil War Boston, with the protagonist being a young woman, Nell Sweeney, with a less than respectable past who becomes a governess in a wealthy family. The book had all the right elements to be a great story, but totally fell down in my eyes. The author spent pages and pages describing the technical aspects of how a man smoked opium (I really didn't need all that detail!); the rich woman Nell worked for did things (getting drunk, blabbering her family ...more
I went back and forth on reading this book. Set in the 1800's? Back when women were little more than accessories? Yeah. Pass. Give me a hardcore, ass-kicking heroine any day.

I ended up ordering it after reading the reviews on Amazon & what do you know? Nell Sweeney, former "kinda" nurse, turned governess, is as kickass as any heroine in any other period.

As far as the mystery goes, Ryan kept me guessing right up until the Big Reveal. Just when I would think I had it all figured out & was
Sep 19, 2011 Felicia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a REAL soft spot for historical mystery series, especially with a good romance subplot (see Deanna Raybourn for my fave!) I picked up several #1s in some series, and this one was one of the most enjoyable of the batch.

It's set in the post-Civil War US, which I thought was interesting and non-standard. It's a BIT perplexing in that there are some modern sensibilities that don't feel 100% organic to the time, but I overlooked it because there were some fun characters and settings. I really
Toni Osborne
Apr 04, 2015 Toni Osborne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Book 1, in the Nell Sweeney Historical Mysteries

This is a murder mystery with an historical flavor to it is set in the post-Civil War era of the 1868, in the affluent society circles of Boston. This novel is wonderful combination of murder mystery, history and romance and one that transports us into the Gilded Age with accuracy and timely details.

From the start I was captured by the main character of Nell Sweeney, a doctor’s apprentice turned high-society governess. Working for a wealthy family
Barb in Maryland
Very interesting murder mystery set in Boston, post-Civil War. The Hewitt family is one of Boston's most elite. But they are not immune to tragedy, as two of their 4 sons died in Andersonville Prison during the war. Or did they?
A gruesome murder has been committed in an unsavory neighborhood and the main suspect (caught at the scene) is identified as Dr William Hewitt, the oldest of the Hewitt sons and long believed dead. Only now he's an opium addict, as well as a murder suspect. August Hewitt
Mar 10, 2012 Vicki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A murder mystery, but wrapped in a historical novel set in the Gilded Age in Boston circa 1868, this book is deliciously full of detail about the lives of both the incredibly wealthy Bostonians and the seamiest residents who move through the alleys and wharves of the rougher slum side of town.

The protagonist is Nell Sweeney, a brainy young Irish girl who can move comfortably in both extremes of society. We are introduced to her as a 22 year old apprentice to a seasoned doctor in the Cape Cod ar
Ivonne Rovira
Aug 18, 2012 Ivonne Rovira rated it it was amazing
Still Life With Murder, the first book in a mystery series featuring 19th century Irish-American governess Nell Sweeney, starts off the series with a bang.

Nell, a onetime workhouse denizen on Cape Cod, has plenty of pluck and intelligence. She serves in the Boston home of Viola Hewitt, an unconventional British-born matron who elevated Nell from physician's assistant to governess for an adopted daughter. For three years, Nell had delighted in caring for Grace Lindleigh Hewitt. With two grown so
I found a great new historical mystery series! I enjoyed this one a lot, and the characters are really well drawn and interesting. Nell Sweeney works as a governess for the Hewitt family taking care of their adopted baby daughter Gracie, who she loves as her own. The Hewitt’s find out their eldest son, believed to have died at Andersonville prison during the war, is alive, in Boston, and charged with murder. Viola Hewitt begs Nell to act as her agent and investigate the matter. Even though Will ...more
Aug 22, 2011 Sharanya rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery, historical
I didn't initially consider myself a Mystery fan. I just didn't think I had the patience for being almost completely in the dark about the outcome of an initial problem, and then there was the way one has to find the answer to that conflict - through searching a room, a house, a hallway, by talking to characters, reading between the lines of their stories etc. With that in mind I thought mysteries were slow reads - a whole lot of problem-solving and not enough direct action, or magic. Don't get ...more
Perhaps it's because I've been reading PNR after PNR lately, but this book really rubbed me the right way. The mystery was pretty good, but the historical detail was top-notch, the writing was superb, and I was totally 'shipping Nell and Will at the end.

Were there moments where I needed to suspend disbelief? Sure. I can't imagine that a late-19th Century police officer would have taken a woman (even a lower-class governess) on the modern day equivalent of a ride-along to a flop-house/opium den.
Laura Lee
Sep 03, 2015 Laura Lee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nell Sweeney is bent on furthering her status in life and does so by hardwork and circumstance. Boston 1868. Women have few choices in the working field. Nurse and governess or nanny are three of them. This is the first in a series. Nell gets involved in the rich family she works for. She is asked for her help in discovering a murderer and helping to solve a mystery. The story was good and the writing fast paced. The characters were likable. There was a little twist at the end. I enjoyed it very ...more
Nov 15, 2013 Ron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars.

Excellent historical fiction. Plenty of historical and cultural details to carry the reader back to nineteenth century Boston, marred by slightly too modern dialogue and thought processes. Nell seems most real as a twenty-first century sleuth; less as a nineteenth century young lady.

Nicely developed plot with enough false leads and misdirection to keep the reader engaged.

A good read.
Apr 06, 2010 Tina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set in post Civil War era Boston, this book introduces us to Nell Sweeney, a young Irish woman who, through a series of fortunate circumstances becomes the governess for a rich, Boston Brahmin family.

As the book goes on we learn that Nell has a past she is struggling to overcome and she has done an admirable job. So much so that even though she knows her origins are very low, her current deportment, manner and speech cause others to mistake her for a 'Lace Curtain' Irish. She becomes attached to
Nov 17, 2013 Hilcia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first book in the Nell Sweeney historical mystery series turned out to be really good! I know I'm giving it a B (or solid), but that's only because well... it's the first of a series and I don't usually give first books higher grades unless they are fantabulous. Nell is an Irish governess working for a wealthy Bostonian family. The time is just after the American Civil War has ended and the mystery? Nell's employers, Augustus and Viola Hewitt are shocked and appalled when they are informed ...more
The year is 1864 and Nell Sweeney is assisting her employer, Dr. Greaves with a difficult birth. When servant, Annie, finally gives birth to a daughter, she doesn’t want the child, as her husband isn’t the father. For mysterious reasons, her employer, Viola Hewitt, adopts the baby, arranges a new job for Annie elsewhere, then hires the gentle and perceptive Nell to help raise Gracie. Nearly four years later, Viola learns that her eldest son William, who she believed died in the Civil War, is ...more
Mar 06, 2016 Kelly rated it it was amazing
In a lot of ways, this is NOT my normal type of book. And, guys, I couldn't put it down. The writing depicting the flow of life in post-Civil War Boston is INCREDIBLE. Between the world Nell moves in now and the one she has to slip back into in the course of her investigation, I was completely caught up in it.

Nell. She's smart and self-sufficient. She can handle pretty much anything she comes across. She's willing to make sacrifices to get answers. I liked her. I liked how she marched in even wh
Shirley Schwartz
I loved this book! Yet another series recommended to me by a friend. I started the book thinking it would be another historical cozy (which I love), but about 3 pages in I realized that this is not an historical cozy series. Historical, yes/ Cozy, no. This is a gritty, sensual, get down-and-dirty series about a young Irish governess who lives in Boston with a very high-society family. Ostensibly she has been hired by the matron of the house to look after her little adopted child, but actually ...more
It took me a long time to understand the appeal of mysteries. When I was a child, I couldn’t even stand the suspense of watching Lassie. Even though everything worked out fine in the end, I would leave the room when my family watched that program.

When I started working for the Pamunkey Regional Library, my boss suggested I try talking books. The library system is spread out over four counties in central Virginia and my job required a lot of driving. So I picked up some books on tape and found I
Jul 11, 2011 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This book turned out to be a big surprise for me. Still Life With Murder (a Nell Sweeney mystery formerly Gilded Age Mystery) was a free download on Kindle.

The setting for this book is Boston and Cape Cod shortly after the Civil War. Nell Sweeney has been a doctor's assistant apprentice of sorts for a doctor on Cape Cod. When she goes with the doctor to the home of a summer resident, she makes such an impression on the wife, Viola Hewitt, that she's hired as the governess to Viola's newly adopt
This book was recommended to me and it has taken me a while to get to it. It is the first of the series introducing Nell Sweeney, a governess to the wealthy Hewitt family but with a dark past. When it is discovered one day that the eldest son of the family, Will, who it was believed had died during the Civil War, was alive and was now being accused of murder, Nell's employer sends her off to find out the truth. And honestly, what's not to like about this book? A feisty, clever heroine, a dark ...more
For a historical mystery, I felt that Still Life With Murder got bogged down too much in depicting the setting so that the plot didn't move with enough purpose. The mystery took second stage to details about opium addiction and life of the desperate in the seedy parts of Boston. The ending exposed everything nicely, but I didn't feel much anticipation leading up to it (other than wondering when the opium saga was going to end).

The finish did actually give me hope that the next book will be bett
I inhaled the entire series in two days, I was that engrossed. Emotionally complex characters really set the series apart, and the romance - which developed slowly, organically, and never fell victim to contrived obstacles, only wholly believable ones - was ridiculously satisfying. It doesn't hurt that Will is the sort of broken hero that might as well have been conjured from a checklist of all the things I like best in that kind of character, falling somewhere on the spectrum between Mr. ...more
Mark Chisnell
May 17, 2012 Mark Chisnell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been trying to read a lot more widely recently and I picked up this one because of it's great reviews on It's an unusual murder mystery, partly because the detective is female - although that's not such a big deal these days - but it's combined with a period setting in post-Civil War Boston. I've spent a little time in that city and it's a great place, and I'd love to return having read Still Life.

I thought this was a great read, kept me guessing till the end with a fine centra
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2016 Reading Chal...: Still Life With Murder 2 24 Jan 24, 2015 08:43AM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: "Still Life with Murder" by P.B. Ryan 1 3 Jul 07, 2012 06:29PM  
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Other Books in the Series

Nell Sweeney Mysteries (6 books)
  • Murder in a Mill Town (Nell Sweeney Mysteries, #2)
  • Death on Beacon Hill (Nell Sweeney Mysteries, #3)
  • Murder on Black Friday (Nell Sweeney Mysteries, #4)
  • Murder In the North End (Nell Sweeney Mysteries, #5)
  • A Bucket of Ashes (Nell Sweeney Mysteries, #6)

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