Murder on the House: A Haunted Home Renovation Mystery
by Juliet Blackwell
Review by Harriet Klausner
Signet Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451238849
Date: 04 December 2012 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
San Francisco bay area house renovator Mel Turner prefers her ability to communicate with ghosts remain a secret. However the Haunted House quarterly names her as a ghostbuster of historical homes. That leads to elderly widow Betty Bernini asking Mel to bid on renovating her home in the Castro District into a haunted bed and breakfast. Though she will reside in her home, Betty explains that she sold the house to Kim and Marty Propak who want the notoriety of a haunt. To win the bid she must remain overnight at the house while competing with Josh Avery of Avery Builders.
Mel arrives with her friends Stephen Nikolai and Claire Allen. However, she is greeted by the ghost of a little girl Annabelle Bowles, who is in a portrait with her brother Ezekiel circa 1911. As they begin their nocturnal time at the house with delivered pizza, Mel soon notices the ghost of Betty near an outside well. Their cell phones fail while Josh has vanished. Leaving the estate, they call the police. Inspector Crawford, who knows Mel from the Cheshire House homicide (see Dead Bolt) leads the investigation. Mel begs the ghosts of Annabelle and Betty to name the killer while the Propak couple, Mountain the gardener, and a young woman claiming ownership surface as the prime suspects as each has the motive. Meanwhile she learns from the Propak pair that she lost the bid to Josh who apparently stayed the night while Mel left to call the cops; though she wonders where he was as he missed pizza and murder.
Mel is a terrific protagonist who wishes she was not cursed with her gift. Ironically, her widower father remains in denial about his daughter’s skill with sprits while her housemates (besides dad) and her friends accept her paranormal talent. The support cast is solid especially her two friends (frightened Stephen and kick butt Claire) while Annabelle, the victim, and the suspects are developed to a point where they move the plot forward. The house comes across like a character as well, since the historical abode adds atmospheric ghostly depth interwoven throughout the storyline such as the march of the toys and the singing (by Annabelle).
Readers will enjoy the latest Haunted House Renovation Mystery (see If Walls Could Talk) as this entry is an engaging leisurely-paced amateur sleuth that starts a bit slow while the audience meet the cast and absorbs the locale. Once the homicide occurs, the enjoyable storyline accelerates as the heroine investigates via the paranormal route while a killer observes her progress just in case another murder is needed on the mundane path. Though not as chilling as the paranormal locked in Dead Bolt, fans will enjoy Mel's inquiry in Murder On The House.