Friday, July 23, 2010

Tomb With A View - Casey Daniels

Tomb With A View
A Pepper Martin Mystery
Casey Daniels
Berkley Prime Crime


To avoid potential spoilers: This is the first book I’ve read in this series, so some of what I have to say about Pepper’s personal life may spoil a part of the previous novel.

Pepper Martin may disparage being a cemetery tour guide, and the only paid staff member at Garden View Cemetery in Cleveland, but she’s uniquely suited to the job. Pepper sees dead people. And she can talk to them. It can be unnerving, but it comes in pretty handy when solving a murder and helping those dead people put an end to their unfinished business and move on to wherever it is they go.

Currently, the staff and volunteers are gearing up for a commemoration ceremony honoring President James A. Garfield, whose tomb rests beside that of his wife in a rotunda on the grounds. The President makes periodic appearances to Pepper and speaks to her at length. The presence of the still-living Marjorie Klinker is far more annoying than any ghost. Marjorie collects Garfield memorabilia, believes she knows absolutely everything there is to know about him, and will tell anyone who will listen – and more than a few who won’t – that she is, somehow, related to the late President. Obviously, Marjorie rubs everyone the wrong way, but getting thrown off the balcony of the rotunda onto the marble floor below is harsh punishment.

Pepper counts herself lucky that Marjorie’s ghost doesn’t seem to anywhere around, but she still feels the need to solve the case. After all the two of them were supposed to be working together on the memorial, and Marjorie had called her to meet at the rotunda that morning, saying it was urgent. Then there’s Pepper’s ex-boyfriend the detective, who dumped her when she told him about her Gift, and warned her to stay away from the case. Clearly, he learned nothing about her while they dated.

This is my first Pepper Martin book, and my feelings about her as a protagonist are conflicted. On the one hand, I appreciate her willingness to help ghosts find their way to the other side by finishing whatever they left behind, or solving their murders. But she comes across as arrogant and strangely air-headed too often for my taste. (Who has a degree in art history but doesn’t know what “bas relief” means? Who has any kind of degree at all but thinks “semantics” refers to Jewish people?) Overall, though, she’s the kind of pro-active, slightly reckless main character a mystery series like this really needs.

The story moves forward at a nice clip, the writing style is breezy and seems perfectly suited to Pepper’s personality. The plot really starts with the murder, of course, but during the investigation, the story becomes deeper and the mystery includes some nice intricacies. By the end, it’s clear who dun it, but any fan of mysteries knows that the fun all lies in wading through the suspect pool and getting to that point. For a first-time reader, the stalker subplot seems random and tacked-on, but I imagine that this has been a story arc spanning a couple of novels, so the inclusion of it with this investigation takes on a different tinge for longtime fans. I’m still not sure Pepper and I would be buds, but I like her enough to find out what she’s going to do next.

Rating: 7
July 2010
ISBN# 978-0-425-23551-5 (paperback)


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