Haunting Investigation (Chesterton Holte)
by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Review by Gayle Surrette
Smoke & Shadow Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781943052011
Date: 31 December 2015
In 1924, America was recovering from the devastation of WWI, which had been followed by the horror of the great influenza epidemic. Nearly every community and family felt the loss from war or disease or both. Poppy Thornton had lost her father, a journalist, to the war, and family members to the flu. She now lived with her Aunt Jo in Philadelphia.
Poppy was of the new breed of women -- educated and driven to be more than a society wife and mother. Poppy wanted to be a serious journalist but, for now, had been assigned to the society column because she was upper class and could go where other reporters could not. Thus to her surprise and tempered delight, she was assigned to cover a society suicide which just might be murder because all the other reporters (read that as men) were on more important stories. Things were looking up until Poppy began to question her sanity when the ghost of Chesterton Holte showed up, saying he needed to aid her in order to work off a karmic debt he owed her family. (Okay, he didn't call it a karmic debt but readers would understand that's what he meant).
Poppy was a woman, but not a shrinking violet, and she didn't believe in ghosts, so what was she to believe but that she'd just been assigned the biggest story of her life and she intended to do the best job she could. However, sometimes even a city as large as Philadelphia is just a small town when the clues Poppy followed were leading her close to people she knew and things just might become very personal.
As one would expect from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, the actions and thoughts of the characters are spot on for the time period. Poppy is an amazing character on the cusp of the movement of women into the workforce in many areas that had previously been closed to them -- even with the pioneering work of some of the women that came before them. She's true to her class and her time period, but also relatable to readers of today.
The plot is complicated and the actions flow smoothly from the previous actions until the exciting conclusion. While readers might think having a ghost to help would make things very easy, there are real limitations on what a ghost can or cannot do as an incorporeal being and, while Holte is definitely a solid character, he is also a believable one -- even as a ghost.
Highly enjoyable as a historical mystery and with twists and turns enough to keep you reading to the last page. I'm hoping there will be more stories featuring Poppy Thornton and Chesterton Holte.