Friday, September 22, 2006

The Ghost and the Dead Man's Library - Alice Kimberly

The Ghost and the Dead Man’s Library
A Haunted Bookshop Mystery
Alice Kimberly
Berkley Prime Crime


This time, it really was a dark and stormy night! Penelope McClure and her Aunt Sadie, owners of Buy The Book bookshop are driving through a thunderstorm to get to Prospero House, the ancestral home of octogenarian Peter Chesley. Arriving at the house, the two women are stunned to find it, and the owner, in very bad condition. Peter, who claims he’s all alone this evening, explains that, due to his arthritis, he’s no longer able to negotiate the stairs. The upper floors are closed off, and he’s converted a small room on the ground floor for his use. But, if he’s alone, why does Penelope hear movement from the second floor? These concerns vanish in light of the books for sale. It’s a complete set of Poe, the Phelps editions from the early 1930s. He seems quite anxious that the women take the books that very night.

On the way home, Penelope realizes that she’s forgotten her purse and returns. She enters to find Peter dead at the foot of the stairs. The police are content to rule it an accident. But Penelope, with some help from Jack Shepard, the ghost of a P.I. who died in 1949, isn’t sure at all. What was Peter doing on the stairs? Back at the shop, they find a bundle of papers in between two of the books. These papers, obviously decades old, indicate that the Phelps set contains a series of riddles that lead to a treasure. While inclined to laugh it off, Penelope has to wonder if it could be real. Someone certainly seems to think so, because those who buy volumes are meeting with nasty ends. With Jack’s spectral help, Penelope decides to get to the bottom of things.

This is such a fun series. Jack speaks only to Penelope, and he speaks in very hard-boiled, noir style, complete with dated slang. He also has a knack, despite (or maybe because of) being dead, of cutting right to the heart of a matter. Penelope, a widow with a young son, keeps Jack’s existence quiet, for obvious reasons. The author manages to skillfully combine the genres of cozy mystery and paranormal into a cohesive whole. And, since the ladies run a bookshop, this series will also appeal to bibliophiles of all kinds. Fans of Poe, in particular, will find much to entertain them in this installment. I always look forward to a new ‘Haunted Bookshop’ mystery, and they never disappoint.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2006
0-425-21265-3 (paperback)


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