Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Haunted Bookshop Series

For those who like a good mystery series the list of choices can be daunting. Several publishers (particularly Berkeley Prime Crime) release new installments each year in a plethora of mystery genres, from hard-boiled to cozy. One of the best of the last few years is the Haunted Bookshop series by author Alice Kimberly.

The first book in the Haunted Bookshop series, The Ghost and Mrs. McClure, presents both an interesting premise and a different twist on the mystery genre. Penelope Thornton-McClure is a young widow who owns a mystery bookshop in a small town in Rhode Island; she's the "cozy" side of the story (think Miss Marple). The shop is also inhabited by the ghost of Jack Shepard, a private investigator murdered in the store 50 years earlier; he's the "hard-boiled" side of the story (think Sam Spade). I've never seen the two mixed before, and the effect is surprisingly satisfying.

Thus far there are five titles in the series: The Ghost and Mrs. McClure, The Ghost and the Dead Deb, The Ghost and the Dead Man's Library, The Ghost and the Femme Fatale, and The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion. The most recent, The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion may be the best one to date, and is evidence that the series is not becoming too predictable or formulaic. Too many of these "specialized" mysteries go flat after a few years; this one has not.

The plot lines in the Haunted Bookshop series are all solid, and the violence is realistic, limited, and understated, which is a nice change from some of the gore-filled tomes put out today. But the novels are first and foremost character-driven. The best parts are the ones that feature interaction between Penelope and Jack, especially as they seek to overcome the "language barrier" between Penelope's 21st century vocabulary and Jack's 1940's street-wise slang and deal with the whole "I'm dead and you're not" obstacle to what might otherwise be a budding romance.

Each of the novels is a fast read, making them perfect for either end-of-winter-by-the-fireplace reading or  stormy-spring-afternoon reading, depending on what's happening in your part of the country right now. You also get a peek inside the world of the bookseller (though not to the degree found in John Dunning's Bookman series) that is interesting in itself.

One last point about this series. Alice Kimberly is the pen name of Cleo Coyle, author of the very successful Coffeehouse Mysteries series. And Cleo Coyle is actually the pen name of the husband and wife team of Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini. You can find more info about both series' at their website.

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