By Alice Kimberly
I have been kind of a cranky reader lately (post Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell), and I was cranky starting this book, too. You may have noticed that I can be a bit snooty about my pulp mysteries, and I only condescended to read this mix of a cozy and pulp mystery on my mom’s recommendation. It has a ridiculous premise: a recently widowed woman leaves her up-scale career and lifestyle in New York City to help her aunt run a small-town bookstore, which turns out to be haunted by a hard-boiled private eye, shot there in 40s.
The private eye ghost is a little over-the-top, our protagonist is often ditsy, and the writing is a bit amateurish (the author definitely hits her stride later in the series, though). It is the fluffiest of fluff, and it just makes me really happy. All of the various oddball characters in the small town are cartoonish in the way that cartoons are awesome: they are quirky, and accessible, and just so comfortable. I’ve read the first three on the last two weeks, so they are each a quick read and quickly addictive, too.
On the flipside, in case I was feeling too pleased with my new series, I also checked out Werewolf Cop from the library, thinking Werewolf! Cop! I should have been warned off by the blurb by Stephen King, but I was just too eager to read a possible supernatural noir novel! This book was so offensively bad that I couldn’t even hate read it for the blog. I won’t go into details or this post will run as long as my last one (and I only made it to chapter 2), but it reminded me why I stopped reading all male authors for a chunk of time in my teens. (I went back and got books four and five of the Haunted Bookshop series instead.)
Edited to add more praise: I just finished the fifth and final published novel in the series (though another one is rumored to be in the works), and they just keep getting better and better! In the later novels, the ghost shows Mrs. McClure memories of his old cases, and the novels are build around two mysteries from different time periods in interesting ways. Reading all five books back to back, I also started to notice the subtle evolution of Mrs. McClure’s character. Through the encouragement of the supportive ghost and her successful investigations, she noticeably gains confidence and takes increased control of her life. It is just a really nice through-line.
Also, I meant to write this before, but forgot: with every single novel, about halfway through I would start thinking how obvious the solution was, but every single time, I got it wrong, and not in a disappointing way, either. (Of course, in my defense Mrs. McClure was wrong as often as not as well.)