Book Review: Ghost in the Wind by E.J. Copperman

Ghost in the WindGhost in the Wind
E.J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2015
ISBN: 978-0-425-26927-5
Mass Market Paperback

Alison Kerby returns in the 7th and newest in the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman.  Alison Kerby, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore [which she describes as ‘a charming but somewhat rickety Victorian’ into which she has sunk ‘every last dime I had’], inhabited by her and her precocious eleven-year-old daughter, Melissa, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, who had died at 28, and Paul Harrison, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths, and her deceased father.  (At Paul’s urging, Alison is now a licensed private investigator.)  It would seem that Alison, her daughter and her mother are the only ones who can see the ghosts.  She now acknowledges the ghostly residents, and advertises the inn as a Haunted Guesthouse, specializing in Senior Plus Tours which include twice-daily ‘spook shows.’

Alison is taken aback, to understate the case, when she is asked by a new ghost in the house, a man/musician who has been her idol for decades, and who I suspect may be the fictional reincarnation of one of the Beatles, who I also suspect has held that position in the author’s life (he is here called Vance McTiernan, ‘lead singer and songwriter of the Jingles,’) who tasks Alison with finding out who murdered his daughter, who died a few months before from an allergic reaction to food she had ingested.  Although there was a suspicion that it was suicide, he is convinced she was murdered.  Alison and her ghostly cohorts take up the investigation, made more difficult since many if not most of the people who might have killed the girl were presently dead.

There is a second ‘job’ that Alison works on when she has a spare minute, and that is discovering the whereabouts of a ‘short blond guy named Lester from Topeka, Kansas,’ at the behest of a rather strange woman pulling a wagon who turns up from time to time.

The writing is terrific, just what one needs in these days of fictional and real-life horrors, and I read the book over a span of a couple of days, all of it with at least a smile on my face or laughing out loud.  The book is well-plotted and the characters, alive or otherwise, thoroughly engaging (even the ones who try Alison’s, and perhaps the reader’s, patience).

As I’ve said before, my preference in mystery genres generally does not include either “cozies” or books dealing in the supernatural (not that there’s anything wrong with those, and many of my best friends love them, I hasten to add).  But this author’s writing overcomes any such reluctance on my part – – his books are always thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended, and this one is no exception.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2015.

Book Reviews: Inspector Specter by E.J. Copperman and The Accident by Chris Pavone

Inspector SpecterInspector Specter
A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #6
E.J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2014
ISBN: 978-0-425-26926-8
Mass Market Paperback

Alison Kerby returns in the newest Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman. Alison, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore, inhabited by her and her precocious eleven-year-old daughter, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, and Paul Harrison, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths, and her deceased father. It would seem that Alison, her daughter and her mother are the only ones who can see the ghosts. She now acknowledges the ghostly residents, and advertises the inn as a Haunted Guesthouse, specializing in Senior Plus Tours which include twice-daily ‘spook shows.’  As the book begins, her paying guests number six (delightfully including Joe Guglielmelli and Bonnie Claeson, real-life former owners of the sorely-missed Black Orchid Books in Manhattan).

Allison is asked by Det. Lt. Anita McElone of the Harbor Haven Police Department to look into the death of Martin Ferry, McElone’s ex-partner in the Seaside Heights Police Dept., which those cops had labeled death caused by accidental discharge of his gun, but which she thinks is murder. Alison’s ability to conduct a proper investigation is hampered a bit by the fact that she has to baby-sit the eleventh-month-old son of her best friend, Jeannie, but with help from her ghostly assistants, she proceeds. There are disturbing hints that the detective may not have been completely honest.

Of her parents, Allison says “They have a great marriage, despite her being widowed.”  Of her father particularly:  “he almost never turns down a request I make (and never turns down a request Melissa makes; it’s like he was born to be a grandfather and, thanks to the miracle of ghost technology, is finally getting the chance to fulfill his true destiny.)”

The writing is wonderful, with the author’s s trademark laugh-out-loud wit and intelligence, well-plotted mystery and very well-drawn characters, alive or otherwise.

My preference in mystery genres generally does not include either “cozies” or books dealing in the supernatural (not that there’s anything wrong with those, and many of my best friends love them, I hasten to add).  But this author’s writing overcomes any such reluctance on my part – – his books are always thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended.  His dedication to several brilliant comics of years past ends with the words “there aren’t enough funny people in the world,” a deficit which he certainly helps to overcome.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2014.

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The AccidentThe Accident
Chris Pavone
Broadway Books, January 2015
ISBN: 978-0-385-34847-8
Trade Paperback

The Accident is, nominally, about a manuscript which bears that title, the author shown as “Anonymous.”  It is a memoir (perhaps), an expose or unauthorized biography (possibly), of an international media mogul (think Rupert Murdoch), with some little-known (or until now unknown) and potentially ruinous events in his past, most shockingly the one which gives the book its title, the person who wrote it identified only as “the author.”  But more importantly, the novel, written with a sly humor, provides an inside look at the publishing industry, in ever greater danger of extinction, that is as fascinating (in a schadenfreude kind of way) as that ostensible main story line. We are told the “the publishing business is a business, and books are published for an audience to buy from bookstores, who buy units from distributors who order cartons from publishers who acquire titles from literary agencies who sign up careers from authors, money changing hands at every transaction.”

The book opens with the surveillance of a woman, as yet unnamed, by a man watching a live video feed as she lies in bed, reading, typical of the espionage, literal and figurative, found here.

The manuscript, hand-delivered to the office of Isabel Reed, a powerful literary agent in New York, is full of shocking revelations implicating, e.g., various American presidents and CIA directors, and is, almost literally, dynamite, putting those few individuals who are privy to its contents in mortal danger. On the other hand, each of those individuals, initially at least, see in it their salvation. Written from their various points of view, the novel takes the reader from New York to Zurich, Copenhagen and Los Angeles, all of it taking place in a single day, and exposes the staggering machinations which routinely abound in the publishing industry. The reader is treated to brief excerpts from the manuscript, interspersed periodically, as it is read by the players in that select group.

With wonderfully well-drawn characters, this is a terrific read, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.

Book Reviews: Jesus Jackson by James Ryan Daley and The Thrill of the Haunt by E.J. Copperman

Jesus JacksonJesus Jackson
James Ryan Daley
The Poisoned Pencil, October 2014
ISBN: 978-1929345069
Trade Paperback

On page one, Jonathan Stiles, the youthful narrator of this fine novel, meets the nicely dressed title character on the football field of fervently Catholic Saint Sorens Academy. He’s holding a football. On page two Jonathan explains that he does not and has never believed in God or in Jesus Christ. He has, he believes, absolutely no faith. And there readers have the core of the dilemma this novel presents.

This is a novel about the ultimate mystery of the human condition. If God exists in any form, why? And why do certain things happen, or not, when and the way they do? Yet this is not a religious text per se, any more than it is a YA or an adult novel. It is all of those things. Ryan, a professed sceptic, had had numerous discussions with his younger brother about God and Faith. Jonathan, just about to enter ninth grade at Saint Sorens Academy, a conservative Catholic school, is devastated by his brother’s death, as is the entire school. Circumstances lead Jonathan to wonder about his brother’s death, further complicating his mental state.

Jesus Jackson explains to Jonathan that he, JJ, is present to help Jonathan sort out his faith. But it costs something. This is a contract, not a casual operation, and Jonathan pays twelve dollars to Jesus Jackson for the service. Thereafter we follow Jonathan through various adventures and interactions with fellow students, teachers, the school administrators and his sorrowing family.

Occasionally, Jesus Jackson shows up, sometimes in confrontation, sometimes to give direction, but always to encourage and energize Jonathan to persevere in his quest.

This is a fine novel that is a lot of fun to read. It is punchy, emotional, turbulent and insightful. To discover how and whether Jonathan solves the mystery of his brother’s death, read the novel, and watch for your own Jesus Jackson.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The Thrill of the HauntThe Thrill of the Haunt
A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #5
E.J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, November 2013
ISBN: 978-0-425-25239-0
Mass Market Paperback

If you haven’t yet read the earlier entries in this terrific series, of which this is number 5, I urge you to correct that as soon as possible! And to catch you up, I take the perhaps dubious liberty of repeating from my review of the last one, Chance of a Ghost, as follows: Allison Kerby is a single mother in her late thirties who runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore, inhabited by her and her precocious eleven-year-old daughter, Melissa, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert and former interior designer (during the time she was alive), and Paul, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths, and, more recently, Allison’s father. It would seem that Alison and her daughter, as well as her mother, are the only ones who can see, and hear, the ghosts.

At Paul’s urging, about two and a half years ago Allison got a private investigator’s license, and as this new book opens, she reluctantly finds herself hired by not one but two people, the first being a woman who wants Allison to follow her husband to obtain proof that he is cheating on her, and the second, with even more reluctance, by a local woman who relationship with Allison is less than friendly, who demands that Allison find out who killed a local homeless man found murdered inside a locked room (shades of Agatha Christie!). In keeping with that theme, Allison ultimately gathers together all the suspects who have been unearthed in one room in hopes of uncovering identity of the killer(s).

What makes this book as outstanding as it is (and it is that!),besides the very real mysteries underlying the plot, is the humor and dry wit of the author, which makes the novel a distinct pleasure to read. Added to the mysteries is the book’s more personal aspect, with Allison filled with ambivalence at her budding romance with a man who she has been seeing for a record-setting four months, added to her ambivalence about her detective business, or should I say sideline, with her main source of income coming from the paying clientele at her guesthouse (most definitely NOT a bed-and-breakfast, btw, as Allison makes clear).

(I must add that I loved the ‘tip of the hat’ which the author gives to Sea Haven Officer Daniel Boyle, the protagonist of his fellow Jersey Shore mystery author, Chris Grabenstein.)

In sum, The Thrill of the Haunt is an absolutely perfect beach read, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2014.

Book Reviews: The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins, Good Bait by John Harvey, Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson, A Cup Full of Midnight by Jaden Terrell, and Chance of a Ghost by E.J. Copperman

The Lost OnesThe Lost Ones
Ace Atkins
Putnam, June 2012
ISBN: 978-0-399-15876-6
Hardcover

Quinn Colson first appeared in The Ranger, and now, in this follow-up novel, faces a couple of situations that really put him to the test.  As sheriff in a northern Mississippi county, he has to apply not only the skills he learned in the army, but a lot of common sense and a certain amount of diplomatic talent.

First, a high school friend recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan now runs a local gun shop and shooting range.  Colson suspects him to be the source of U.S. Army rifles which turn up in the hands of a Mexican gang.  Meanwhile, a case involving an abused child leads Colson to discovering a bootleg baby racket.  While raiding the place where the babies are being kept before they’re sold, Colson and his deputy, Lillie Virgil, discover that the two cases somehow converge.

As the investigation progresses, lots of action takes place, sometimes reminding the reader of an actual military operation, led by General Colson, rather than sheriff Colson.  The characters are colorfully drawn, and the dialogue is vibrant.  The novel is sort of a cross between an old-fashioned western and a modern day crime novel and reads well, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.

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Good BaitGood Bait
John Harvey
Pegasus, January 2013
ISBN 978-1-605-98378-3
Hardcover

There are two main story lines, and two cases for the cops to pursue, in this newest novel from John Harvey.  The first is the murder in Hampstead Heath of a 17-year-old Moldovan boy, assigned to DCI Karen Shields and the Homicide & Serious Crime team.  The second falls to DI Trevor Cordon of the Devon and Cornwall Police in Exeter, when a woman he’d known is killed under the wheels of an oncoming train, whether suicide, accident or murder is unknown.  Though not strictly his problem, he takes time off the job to investigate it, as the woman in question was known to him from years back and is the mother of a girl who, though many years his junior, he knew and by whom he was intrigued all those years before. There is the tantalizing question of whether or not these two events are connected.

This is, of course, at least nominally, a police procedural, and quite a good one, although the multitude of characters, both ‘bad guys’ and good, were often difficult for me to keep track of.  But of course, being a John Harvey novel, it is much more than that.  That title, for one instance, is, typically of a Harvey protagonist, the title of a jazz tune of which Cordon collects every known recording, from Miles Davis to Nina Simone to Dexter Gordon.  It is also a character study of the lead cops, entirely different from one another:  Karen, a black woman from Jamaica, and Trevor, fifty-ish, with an ex-wife and a grown son from whom he’s been estranged but who he believes is now living somewhere in Australia.  The author philosophizes about what makes these cops tick:  if it’s “the mystery, the need to see things through to their conclusion, find out how they’d been put together, how they ticked.  Wasn’t that one of the reasons people became detectives?” and about “missed chances.  Roads not taken. Relationships allowed to drift.  Always that nagging question, what if, what if?”  Another terrific Harvey novel, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

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Watching the DarkWatching the Dark
Peter Robinson
Morrow, January 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-200480-2
Hardcover

The 20th entry in the wonderful Inspector Banks series by Peter Robinson opens with the shocking killing of one of Banks’ colleagues, a decorated detective inspector, on the grounds of St. Peter’s Police Convalescence and Treatment Center, where he was a patient.  The Major Crimes Unit, or Homicide and Major Inquiry Team, as it was now known, operating out of Eastvale, is assigned, the investigative team once again including DS Winsome Jackman (“all six feet something of her”), DC Gerry Masterson, and DI Annie Cabbot, Banks’ close friend, who is just returning from a convalescence after having survived her own brutal wounds and subsequent convalescence in events described in a prior entry in the series.

Because there had recently been a hint of police corruption, Inspector Joanna Passero, of Professional Standards [the equivalent of the American IAB], is assigned to work with Banks.  Their working relationship, perhaps understandably, is an ambivalent one, at least initially.  Very shortly, another murder takes place, and there are indications that the two killings may be related.  Another angle that comes into play is a six-year-old cold case involving Rachel Hewitt, a 19-year-old English girl who seemingly “disappeared off the face of the earth” in Tallinn, Estonia, a case that had haunted the dead inspector for the intervening years, having been involved in the investigation at its inception in Tallinn.

The author expertly juxtaposes the lines of investigation, with Annie and her colleagues handling the Eastvale aspect of the case, and Banks the second killing, which appears to involve illegal migrant labor activities, ultimately taking him to Estonia, though he is warned not to get diverted by the Hewitt case.  Following his instincts, as always, Banks is determined to do his best to bring closure to the girl’s parents if at all possible.  A complex plot, carried off in smooth fashion, in a book that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

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A Cup Full of M idnightA Cup Full of Midnight
Jaden Terrell
Permanent Press, August 2012
ISBN: 978-1-57962-225-1
Hardcover

Jared McKean, 36 years of age and now a private detective after seven years with the Nashville Metro Police Department, has gone, as he describes it, from “uniformed patrol officer to undercover vice officer to homicide detective to outsider.”  Now he has his most important client ever:  his nephew, Josh.  Josh and his sister, 14-year-old Caitlin, are as close to him as anyone in his life, the boy feeling closer to him than to his own father. Lately Josh’s life has been in a state of upheaval, having not long ago come out of the closet and left home to live with Sebastian Parker, known as “Razor,” the sociopath who’d seduced him [a man in his late 20’s to Josh’s 16]. After the latter’s murder a few days before, Josh had attempted suicide, and now ‘hires’ Jared to find out who killed Razor.  No simple task, since he seems to have engendered hatred in most everyone whose path he crossed.  In what appears to be a ritual killing, he had been slashed to death, emasculated, eviscerated, and his body placed on a pentagram, surrounded by occult symbols.

The novel is a cautionary tale of disenchanted youth and the Goth sub-culture, “vampire wannabees.”  I was initially – but only initially – unsure whether this was a book for me, agreeing with the protagonist when he says “I didn’t believe in magic spells or voodoo curses.  I didn’t believe in vampires or witches or things that go bump in the night.  The only monsters I had ever seen were human.”

This is the second in the Jared McKean series, following the terrific Racing the Devil, and it doesn’t disappoint.  Jared’s “ex” hits the nail on the head in explaining why she couldn’t stay married to him, citing his career choice:  “It’s not what you do; it’s who you are. You’re a hero waiting for something to die for.”  Jared is a fascinating protagonist.  Still on good terms with his ex-wife [now re-married and in her ninth month of pregnancy], they are both devoted to their eight-year-old Down Syndrome son, Paulie.  He shares a ranch with his best childhood friend, Jay, now battling AIDS, and his three horses:  Dakota, the rescued Arabian; Crockett, the Tennessee Walker; and Tex, the palomino gelding Quarter Horse. As the investigation continues, several suspects emerge, and Jared’s investigation puts his life, and that of his nephew, at risk, and he becomes even more relentless.  Well-plotted, the book has more than one heart-stopping moment.  It was a very good read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2013.

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Chance of a GhostChance of a Ghost
E.J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, February 2013
ISBN: 978-0-425-25168-3
Mass Market Paperback

Alison Kerby returns in the fourth Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman.  Alison, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore, inhabited by her and her precocious ten-year-old daughter, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, and Paul, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths.  It would seem that Alison and her daughter, as well as her mother, are the only ones who can see the ghosts.

At Paul’s urging, Alison had obtained a private-investigator’s license, and her services as such are sought by her mother’s own ghostly friend, who wants Alison to find out who killed him.  While his death six months previously was deemed to have been of natural causes, he is convinced he was murdered.  The investigation morphs into a search for the ghost of Alison’s father, who died five years ago, but whose ghost has been strangely absent of late.  She is aided in her efforts by her mother, her daughter, her best friend Jeannie, and her present [living] houseguest, who is a retired cop and delighted at the opportunity to do what he did best, and misses a lot, as well as by Paul and Maxie [who Alison refers to as her  two “non-breathing squatters”].

As with every book in the series, this newest entry contains the same unbeatable combination:  a terrific plot and great if quirky humor [if you like that sort of thing – and I do!!].  I particularly loved the line about the heating system in Alison’s ancient Volvo, which was “roughly as efficient as the United States Congress, which is to say it made a lot of noise but got very little done.”  The protagonist’s slightly bemused attitude toward the apparent fact that ghosts actually exist, and that some people could see/hear them, seems perfectly reasonable.  This book, as were the earlier entries in the series, is thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2013.

Book Reviews: The Killer Is Dying by James Sallis, The Calling by Alison Bruce, Old Haunts by E.J. Copperman, Northwest Angle by William Kent Krueger, and The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly

The Killer is Dying
James Sallis
Walker & Company, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8027-7945-8
Hardcover

The first thing one perceives on reading the first pages of James Sallis’ new novel is the literal accuracy of the title:  The man who calls himself Christian is a contract killer, a Vietnam vet now terminally ill, on his last job.  A few pages later, something goes awry as the man he has been watching, who he has been hired to kill, is suddenly shot – –  by someone else.  And Christian is not sure how he feels about that.

The second character to whom the reader is introduced is Jimmie, a precocious youngster who has unexpectedly had to develop some strong survival skills when he is abandoned by his parents.  Suddenly, and bizarrely, Jimmie begins having vivid dreams.  The startling thing about this, other than the oddity of his dreaming at all when he was previously unaware of having ever done so in the past, is that the dreams are apparently Christian’s.  And that’s just the beginning.  A dying killer, a philosophizing teenager, a cop whose wife is gravely ill;  disparate lives which only tangentially intersect, with the p.o.v. switching among them, which was briefly disorienting to this reader, but all to fascinating effect.

There are small master strokes with pitch-perfect thumbnail sketches, several scenes analogizing the actions of birds to those of humans. This is a book peopled by characters who are dead or dying and those they leave behind.  But it is not maudlin, rather, thought-provoking. It is also full of existential musings:  “The world speaks to us in so many languages . . . and we understand so few . . . He was thinking how kids back in school, kids these days too he was sure, always talked about being bored, and how he could never understand that.  The way wind moved in the trees, the sheen of sunlight on glass or steel, a fly’s wings – – everything was of interest.  You just had to pay attention, you just had to look.”

James Sallis, the author of over two dozen volumes, fiction and non-fiction alike, has again produced a novel which captured me completely.  When I read and reviewed one of his earlier books, Salt River, I wrote “Mr. Sallis’ spare prose is wonderful, and the novel a deeply affecting one.”  Those words are just as true for this book, and it is, obviously, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2011.

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The Calling
Alison Bruce
Soho Constable, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-964-3
Hardcover

As this third novel in the DC Gary Goodhew series opens, the reader is briefly introduced, one by one, to members of the somewhat dysfunctional Burrows family, which is planning a surprise celebration of the 80th birthday of the family matriarch.  Two of the family members fail to show up, however: Andy, as usual feeling himself the least favored child, ponders whether or not to join in the festivities.  When his niece, Kaye, doesn’t show up, however, it is for much more sinister reasons:  She appears to have disappeared.

The case is assigned to DC Goodhew, of the Cambridge CID.  With no clues as to Kaye’s whereabouts, the only positive note comes from two anonymous calls from a woman who directs the police to a man who she says they should investigate.  The suspense amps up as it appears there may be more than one victim.

A cut above many police procedurals, the book contains clever plotting and an interesting protagonist, a young and intuitive young man caught up in spite of himself in some office politics, and a suggestion of [possibly] romantic and [definitely] professional compatibility with D.C. Sue Gully. I will look forward to the next entry in this series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2011.

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Old Haunts
E.J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-425-24618-4
Mass Market Paperback

Alison Kerby returns in the third in what is billed as the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman.  Alison, a single mother of a precocious ten-year-old daughter, after her divorce from the man she not-so-lovingly refers to as “The Swine” returned to the town where she grew up, Harbor Haven on the Jersey Shore, purchased a house over a century old, hoping to live out her dream of running a guest house.  Those plans changed somewhat after Alison discovered that the previous owner of the house, “Maxie,” is still there – sort of.  Actually, it’s Maxie’s ghost who is still there, as well as that of a young detective named Paul, who had been hired by Maxie shortly before death threats had been carried out against her, with both of them becoming murder victims.  Alison, her mother and daughter seem to be the only ones who can see them.  But on the positive side, word has gotten around, and the ‘haunted guesthouse’ is now being booked by a tour agent for senior citizens interested in what is  billed as a “unique experience,” promising two-a-day “ghostly happenings.”  Maxie, who died – and still remains – at 28, and Paul – English-born and Canadian-raised, and wanting to keep his hand in the p.i. business, so to speak – have no problem with that, especially as they are apparently incapable of leaving the house.

It is a typically hot – make that ‘very hot’ – July “down the shore” in Harbor Haven.  Alison has her usual contingent of guests, most of them the normal group of seniors, when Alison discovers “The Swine” on her doorstep.  Uninvited, and certainly unexpected, he states that he and the woman for whom he left Alison have broken up, and indicates that he wants them ‘to be a family again.’  To further complicate matters for Alison, the body of a man is discovered in a neighboring town, and police identify it as that of a man to whom Maxie was briefly [4 days, to be exact] married.  Alison undertakes to try to find out who killed him, and why.

As if this isn’t enough for her to deal with, Paul asks Alison to try to track down the woman to whom he was about to propose before his untimely death; the engagement ring was in his pocket at the time.  With her [as they are described] ‘non-alive assistants’ and her best friend, the very-pregnant Jeannie, Alison undertakes to do what has to be done to resolve all these issues, in well-plotted and very funny fashion.  [As just a small example, I cite the author’s description of a man who runs a collection agency, “wearing a sport coat so loud he had to shout to be heard over it.”]  But the humor and charm of the writing is difficult to capture – you simply have to get this book and experience it for yourself – it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2012.

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Northwest Angle
William Kent Krueger
Atria, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-439-15395-6
Hardcover

This is the eleventh book in the multi-award-winning Cork O’Connor series, and it is another winner.  It starts out, as do the others, in the North Woods of Minnesota, described by the author as “a land so beautiful it’s as near to heaven as you’re likely to find anywhere on this earth.”  And the reader is more than convinced of that as [s]he continues to read, for the author’s wonderful prose brings it vividly to life in all its majesty.

Family is all-important to Cork, and as the novel opens he and his family – his two daughters, Ann, twenty-one, and Jenny, a writer twenty-four years old; his son, nearly fifteen; and his sister-in-law and her husband – are about to embark in a houseboat on one of the larges lakes in North America, straddling the US/Canadian border, on what he envisions as a family gathering, the first in the nearly two years since his beloved wife had died.  Their destination was a remote area known as the Northwest Angle.  Within less than an hour, however, a devastating storm arises, threatening to kill anything and anyone in its path, with waves over eight feet high and winds over 100 mph, wreaking havoc and destruction unlike anything they’d even seen.

As suddenly as it began, the storm soon passes, but in its aftermath and where the vagaries of the area have deposited them, on one of a myriad of small islands, they discover an old trapper’s cabin, inside which they find the body of a young girl, brutally killed, and, nearby, an infant who appears to be no more than a few weeks old. Jenny is immediately taken with the child, who though hungry and dehydrated is none the worse for his abandonment.  The reaction of the others is somewhat more ambivalent as to his future, and the possibilities raised by his presence among them and its potential threat, for it appears that whoever was responsible for the girl’s death is still stalking the area.  Cork, with his background as a Chicago cop and a Sheriff for more than a decade before he became a p.i., is faced with getting them safely off the island, and finding out who is responsible for the girl’s death, as well as seeing that the baby’s future is dealt with.

The ensuing events are never less than harrowing.  The mystery is one not easily solved, but the O’Connor family, with the help of their old friend Henry Meloux, is not easily deterred.  Cork’s – and the author’s – love of the wilderness, and his philosophy towards life and family, is made manifest, e.g., “he was reminded that life was no more predictable than the flight of a dragonfly” and “love is the only river I know whose current flows both ways.”  The book is deeply satisfying, and as this author’s work usually does, left me with tears in my eyes.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2012.

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The Dark Rose
Erin Kelly
Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-670-02328-8
Hardcover

Louisa Trevelyan is working as a garden designer re-creating a historically accurate Tudor garden in Warwickshire, at the fictional Kelstice Lodge.  After working for years recreating gardens that had fallen into neglect on private estates, this community program has really given her a chance to indulge her creative passion for garden design.  It is there that she meets Paul Seaforth, 19 years old, who bears “an uncanny likeness” to her lover of years ago, Adam Glasslake. Though that relationship only lasted a few months, Louisa had been obsessed with Adam from the day she met him, an obsession undiminished with the years, which now translates into an affair with the much-younger Paul.

Kelstice is a project of Veriditas, a charity working with “at risk youth.”  Paul’s presence is the “community service” to which he has been sentenced in lieu of jail time for his part in a crime committed by a mentor of sorts, against whom he has agreed to testify in court. For her part, Louisa also has a past which threatens her present.  By unspoken agreement, they never discuss their pasts with one another.

Billed as a ‘psychological mystery,’ I found the novel to be more suspense than mystery, as the details of Paul’s and Louisa’s pasts are revealed to the reader only in small doses.  The shifting p.o.v. and time frames were somewhat disorienting, but necessary, describing the earlier years of both protags bit by bit, building the anticipation, until quite near the end of the novel, when all the details are finally revealed, leading to a stunning climax.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2012.