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AN UNINVITED GHOST
By E. J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, 2011 ($7.99)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Single mom and part-time private eye Alison Kerby has mostly finished renovating the house she bought on the Jersey Shore and is ready for guests. When she first moved back to her hometown of Harbor Haven and bought the old house, she discovered it came with a little extra - the ghosts of Maxie, the previous owner, and Paul, the private investigator who was hired to find out who was making threats against her and died trying.
Alison shares her mother's, and daughter's, ability to see and hear dead people. There is some friction at first between Alison and the spectral duo, but it seems they can't leave until Paul finishes his investigation. In order to do that, he talks Alison into getting a P.I. license to help him discover who killed him and Maxie. In doing so, she almost becomes a member of their special club.
A year later, Maxie and Paul are still housebound, but Alison and her family have gotten used to them. Rumors of their presence have actually been helpful to Alison's business. The house has been rented out by a tour group of senior citizens who want to be spooked, and Maxie and Paul oblige them with twice a day performances. Alison is happy to have an almost-full house, but she quickly learns owning a guesthouse is no piece of cake. The group includes one crotchety old lady, one pair of amorous lovers who never leave their room, a couple of pool playing, beer drinking guys, a nurse who may not be who she claims to be, and an overly enthusiastic ghost hunter.
With a little help from family, friends, and ghosts, Alison manages to keep almost everyone satisfied. That doesn't last long, of course. She is "hired" by one of Paul's ghostly cohorts who thinks he may have caused the death of an elderly lady when he believed he was playing a harmless prank. Alison finds the woman, alive and well, and strikes up an instant friendship with her, inviting her to the sťance planned that evening. In the meantime, she has agreed to let a reality show about a bunch of young, rowdy, sex-crazed Jersey Shore beach bums and bimbos film in and around the house. What WAS she thinking? Oh yeah, she was thinking she needed the generous amount of money the filming would bring in.
The sťance does not go as planned. One of the attendees ends up dead - bad for business, but great for the film crew. The police determine that the death is a homicide, and the killer has to be someone who was in the room. Against police advice, she does her own investigating to unmask the killer and get all those annoying guests out of her house. She does have some resources unavailable to the cops: an unlimited supply of ghostly entities ready and willing to help her in any way they can, whether it's solving a murder, locating a missing actress, or scaring the stuffing out of an obnoxious lawyer.
There are several series out now featuring protagonists who can interact with ghosts. Some are good, but this one is the best I've read. Alison's spectral companions are reminiscent of Topper's buddies, funny and stubborn and helpful when they want to be. When she is seen by others having discussions with "nobody," I am reminded of Jimmy Stewart talking to Harvey. There is a wicked little homage to a famous movie at the end that I didn't see coming, just like I didn't see that twist in the movie.
This is the second in the Haunted Guesthouse mystery series, after the delightful debut, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED. E.J. Copperman is the pseudonym of a very talented and funny New Jersey writer. I look forward Alison's next spooky adventure.
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