The Black Cat
375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014
9780670021604 $25.95 800-847-5515, penguin.com
In his 22nd appearance of this wonderful series, New Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury is trying to deal with the awful consequences of the auto accident in which the other driver was killed and which left his lover, "the incomparable, commanding, relentless" D.I. Lu Aguilar, hospitalized with devastating injuries as the book opens. [Actually, the accident took place a few weeks prior in time, at the end of the last book in the series, "Dust."] But he has little time to grieve over her fragile condition as he has been called in to assist in the investigation of the murder of a young woman, whose appearance is most notable for her beauty and the obvious costliness of her attire: Yves St. Laurent gown and Jimmy Choo shoes. The murder took place in the village of Chesham, on the grounds of a pub, the eponymous Black Cat. And in fact a plethora of black cats populate the novel. [Well, if three can be called a plethora.] For that matter, the book is filled with various animals bearing whimsical names: a horse named Aggrieved, a goat named Aghast, and a dog named Aggro, among others, and all those black cats.
Jury, who pines for a cigarette frequently through these pages as he has "for the thousandth heartbreaking time in three years," and is described as a "high-ranking detective with the Metropolitan police, but without much feeling for rank, and who'd climbed the ladder without much feeling for the rungs," remains thoroughly endearing, as do his mates, among them the debonair Melrose Plant, Lord Ardrey, if you please; Harry Johnson, nominally his nemesis but with whom he shares a decidedly ambivalent relationship; and Dr. Phyllis Nancy, his good friend-cum-paramour. In addition to all the running characters in the series, the author creates tiny little portraits of incidental characters, bringing them to perfect life. A familiarity with the earlier books in the series will be helpful to the reader, as there are several references to prior events, but is not at all necessary to a thorough enjoyment of the novel.
Other murders occur, but in London, nowhere near Chesham, and the feeling persists that the murders are both connected and not connected. It takes the persistence and brainpower of both the human and non-human characters to figure out just what that means, taking the reader swiftly to the unexpected ending. The book is, at the very least, a tutorial in designer footwear, filled with delightful humor and charming prose, and is recommended.
Night of the Living Deed
E. J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime
375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014
9780425235232 $7.99 800-847-5515 penguin.com
Alison Kerby, newly single mother of a precocious nine-year-old daughter, has returned to the town where she grew up, Harbor Haven on the Jersey Shore, after having purchased a house over a century old, planning to turn it into a guest house. The extensive renovations leave her undaunted. Until, that is, she becomes aware that the house is inhabited. Unusual enough, perhaps, but even more so when she discovers that the inhabitants are ghosts, who apparently only she can see and hear, a man and woman whose bodies had been found in her new home, and who believe they were murdered. Only the official cause of their deaths was listed as suicide. Strange indeed, as the woman, "Maxie," still in her twenties and with a definite attitude, was a former owner of the house, and the man, Paul, was a private detective in his mid-thirties who had only recently been hired by Maxie to find out who was making death threats against her. They implore Alison to "find out who killed us ... It's the last wish of a man who's already dead. You're special-you can see and hear us. You're the only one who can help ... I can't spend eternity wondering what happened to us."
The majestic beach house, which has seven bedrooms, several of them with wood-burning fireplaces, is located on a large plot that was a prime target of a local developer intent on bulldozing it en route to building a huge complex of McMansions. The suspects include but are not limited to the developer and the members of the planning board which had to approve his proposal. When Alison herself becomes the recipient of death threats, she has no choice but to agree to investigate, under Paul's p.i.-trained guidance. Fittingly, all of this takes place a scant two weeks or so before Halloween.
Personally, understanding that your mileage may vary, I never particularly cared for, nor believed in, ghosts, fictitious or otherwise. Then again, neither does Alison. But there they were, the two of them, undeniably. The reader just can't help going along for the ride, and a delightful ride it is. The plot is well-developed, as are the characters, and the whole is funny, charming, and thoroughly enjoyable. It appears that this is the first in a planned series, and I look forward to the next installment. Recommended.