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HOW TO SURVIVE A KILLER SÉANCE


By Penny Warner

Obsidian, 2011 ($6.99)
ISBN-10: 0451232798
ISBN-13: 978-0-451-23279-3

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Presley Parker's event planning business is hanging on by a thread, and she is managing to stay within her budget mainly because of the low rent she pays for her office. It's located in a dilapidated former Army barracks on Treasure Island, just across the bay from San Francisco. Her day gets off to a very bad start when she arrives at work in her well-loved MINI Cooper to find a padlock on the door and an eviction notice from the government. The building has been condemned and the tenants have to vacate the premises ASAP.

Things improve when one of the tenants, Brad "I'm not gonna call him my boyfriend," Matthews, who runs a crime cleanup service, finds affordable new digs for her and the other tenants in a lovely Art Deco building built for the Golden Gate Exposition of 1939.

Her mother, a much-married former socialite in the early stages of Alzheimer's, invites her to lunch to meet her latest beau, Stephen Ellington. He is also a resident of the care home where Presley's mother lives. He is handsome, a gentleman, and very wealthy. His son Jonathan is tall, handsome, wealthy, married, and a complete cad. He wants to hire her for a lucrative job, holding a séance in the famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose to introduce his revolutionary new 4 D technology. Against her better judgment, she agrees to take the job. A girl's gotta pay the rent, and besides, her mother would never forgive her if she turns it down.

While Presley is an excellent event planner, there had been a bit of bother at previous affairs: dead bodies and such tend to upset party goers. She's hoping for the best this time. Some big-name guests like George Lucas are invited, and she could make some great contacts. Alas, she is foiled again. At first all seems well. The séance table is impeccably set up, her "medium," her best friend Delicia, performs perfectly, and the special effects are breath-taking. Sarah Winchester, who built the eccentric house to appease the spirits of those her husband's rifles had killed, appears on the table in holographic form, explaining the new technology and interacting with the guests. Suddenly the interaction goes horribly wrong, as she accuses Jonathan of a multitude of indiscretions, naming names. His wife Lyla, understandably upset, grabs a candlestick and swings it at his head. He wards off the blow, then follows her as she runs off into the dark. Could things get any worse? They could. There's a dead body in the building, and a missing person, just for starters. Presley think the police are on the wrong track, and she gets busy finding the real culprit and trying to save her business - and her own life.

This is the third in the Presley Parker Event Planner mystery series, after HOW TO CRASH A KILLER BASH and HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY. Presley's profession makes for some great plots, and her supporting cast and crew add their own special touch to the stories. I especially enjoyed the setting of this book, having been interested in the strange story of Mrs. Winchester and her eternal building project ever since I first heard about it. The author does a great job of taking her readers on a special guided tour of this fascinating landmark.

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