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OLD HAUNTS


By E.J. Copperman

Berkley Prime Crime, 2012 ($7.99)

ISBN-13: 978-0-425-24620-7
Kindle eBook: $7.99

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Alison Kerby and her two permanent residents, Maxie and Paul, are renovating the attic space in her Jersey Shore guesthouse into a room for Alison's ten-year-old daughter, Melissa. Maxie is a pretty competent assistant, but Paul still hasn't developed much skill in holding onto solid objects. It seems there are no set rules for what ghosts can and can't do. One thing Maxie and Paul, who were murdered in the house shortly before Alison bought it, can't do is leave the premises. Alison has made her peace with this, and with the fact that she can see dead people. She only developed this skill after a thump to the head, but she discovered her daughter and mother have been able to do this for years.

Paul, a private investigator and a gentleman, is easy to live with. Maxie, a wannabe interior designer, is moody and unpredictable. Because of reports that 123 Seafront Avenue is haunted, Alison has found a way for them to earn their keep in the guesthouse, once Maxie's home. A company offering tours for seniors looking for thrills has booked most of the rooms, with the promise that they will see ghostly events twice a day. Paul is reliable in his performance, but Maxie can't always be counted on to do what she's supposed to, and she can be counted on to do things she's not supposed to, like carry the laptop from room to room, scaring the "civilian" guests who don't know about the resident haunts.

While Alison is in the middle of hanging drywall, she gets an unexpected and unwelcome visit from an old acquaintance she refers to as "The Swine" — aka her ex-husband, Melissa's father Steven. He claims he wants to win her back, but she knows him too well to buy that line. He rents a room, planning to hang around and carry out whatever plot he has in mind. Maxie asks Alison to find out who murdered a man whose remains were just recovered, two years after his death. "Big Bob," a member of a biker gang, was briefly Maxie's ex-husband, something she never bothered to mention to Alison. Paul has a request as well. He wants Alison to use the private investigator skills he taught her to find the woman he was about to propose to before his death — also a surprise to Alison — so that he can make sure she's all right. It's "Revisit Your Failed Relationship Week" at the guesthouse, and Alison doesn't want to be involved with any of it. She just wants to keep her guests happy, be a good mom, and not get killed.

When a real live paying customer, Luther Mason, a hunky biker and good friend of Big Bob, also pleads for Alison to solve his friend's murder, she repeatedly tells him she just isn't that competent, and prefers not to cross paths with scary murderers. Guess who ends up investigating all three cases? Yep. Kitty Malone, Maxie's mother, would also like to know who killed Big Bob, for reasons of her own. Serious reasons.

Alison takes a walk on the wild side, infiltrating the biker world with help from Luther and bad fashion advice from Maxie. Even when she's asking for Alison's help, she's not above playing the occasional prank. As the investigation progresses, our amateur and reluctant sleuth finds out people aren't who they seem to be, that good people can appear to be bad, and vice versa, that everybody lies, and that the policemen aren't always her friends.

This is the third in the Haunted Guesthouse mystery series, following NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED and AN UNINVITED GHOST. Alison is a wonderful character. She is a good mother, a good daughter, a good friend, a good hostess. She is careful in her investigations, never running off into the night to meet a mysterious stranger or going into a dark basement to investigate a strange noise. There are just too many strange noises in her house to investigate them all. She is no pushover, and if anyone hassles her she is not averse to speaking up in the native language of New Jersey: sarcasm. E. J. Copperman has a winning series. Try it, you'll like it.

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