Thursday, March 03, 2011

How To Survive A Killer Seance - Penny Warner


How To Survive A Killer Séance
A Party Planning Mystery With Tips
Penny Warner
Obsidian

Mystery

Presley Parker has a new client for her event planning business. Jonathan Ellington, CEO and owner of one of the many high tech computer development firms in San Francisco, wants a special kind of party to announce the launch of his new 4-D projector. According to Jonathan, it will revolutionize fields as disparate as movies and medicine. His idea is to hold the party/demonstration at the famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. The house was built over decades by Sarah Winchester, heir to the fortune. Sarah believed the mediums who told her that continual building would appease the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifles. The result is a puzzle box of a house and a great place for a séance party.

The main set-piece for the party will be a séance during which the “ghost” of Sarah Winchester will appear to the guests through use of the 4-D projector and speak to those in the room. Given her social stature and introverted nature, I’m not sure how much she would have enjoyed being posthumously turned into a spokesperson for the new tech, even in a small gathering. Be that as it may, tech wizard Levi Webster will be hidden in a nearby room, running the effects and making it appear that Sarah can speak directly to various people in the room. Plans break down, though, when Sarah goes completely off-script and exposes Jonathan as a serial cheater that he is. As you might expect, that pretty much breaks up the party.

The following morning, Presley arrives to complete her post-party cleanup and finds Levi still holed up in his computer closet. When she left the previous evening, Levi was trying to find out who hijacked his signal and how they did it. Sadly, he’ll never know, because he’s dead. One of the prop candlesticks was used to bash him in the back of the head. An angry Jonathan and his disgusted wife left quite quickly after the revelations of the night before and neither has been seen since. Then there’s everyone involved in setting up and serving at the party who must be considered suspects. That most definitely includes Presley, who is starting to feel that she might have had some otherworldly intervention when she named her business Killer Parties.

The idea of an event planner/amateur sleuth (HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY, HOW TO CRASH A KILLER BASH) is a great one. It gives Presley entrée to venues that are often closed to the public; and while she’s there, she can be mixing with quite a cross-section of society. She’s got legitimate reasons to visit the CEO who came up with the party, the programming guys who did the grunt work, and everyone in between. The most entertaining portion is toward the end when Presley decides to do a second Séance Party, this time inviting only those who are prime suspects. She’s got some high tech wizardry of her own planned; just enough to smoke out the real killer. The scene brings to mind the suspects assembling in a drawing room to hear the convoluted solution. This solution is convoluted, but looking back, all the pieces fit and everything makes sense. This is the strongest, most entertaining installment so far, and I’m looking forward to the next party/mystery, where the theme will be vampires.

Rating: 7 ½
March 2011
ISBN# 978-0-451-23279-3 (paperback)

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