"I have to admit, the first time Gus Scarpetti spoke to me, I didn't pay a whole lot of attention. After all, the guy had been dead for thirty years. How much could he possibly have to say? "
Pepper Martin-- Don of The Dead
Imagine your father is a famous plastic surgeon(and very rich), you're engaged to a man who says he love no matter how much money your daddy has. OK so your slightly spoiled but you have a fashion sense that most Hollywood starlets would kill for. And you have the looks to go with it. Five Eleven with a bust that to match. Fiery red hair with the temper to also match.
Then one day it all goes away. Daddy goes off to Federal Prison for medical fraud and the nice tax people pretty much take everything away. That man who said he would and does you loves no matter how many zeros are attached to yours(or your daddy's) bank account drops you like your on fire. Mom moves to Florida to escape it all so that leaves you alone living in Cleveland with only an Art History Degree to meek out a living.
Whats a girl to do?
How about get a job as a tour guide in a local cemetery? So it's not the Honeymoon(or life for that matter) you expected. Then a slight twist of your ankle and hit on the head on the mausoleum of one Gus Scarpetti and now you can see his ghost.
Well meet Penelope "Pepper" Martin. You see Scarpetti has unfinished business here on this world and can not move on to the next or into the light as they say until it is finished. But being a ghost has several restrictions mainly being he can't touch anything or that no one can see him. Until now. And don't let a ghost touch you. It will bring a chill to the bone that can last for days.
So what is this unfinished business that only Pepper can do for him now that she can see, hear and talk to him. Simple, find out who murdered him thirty years ago while walking out of his favorite restaurant.
Did I mention that Scarpetti was a famous gangster in his day? So that makes the list of suspects a long one. And according to Gus if it was a rival gang it then he would have been able to move on to the light or as Gus says:
"That whole white light thing? It's for babbos. You know, dopes. The kind who believe in all that sappy stuff. Not Me. When I go out, honey I'm going to go out in style." "I'm going to make my exit to the strains of Sinatra singing 'My Way' " (you know I kinda wouldn't mind going out that way myself but I'm more partial to Dean Martin).
At first Pepper is very reluctant to help, hell at first she doesn't even think he is real. But once she is past her disbelieve she ends up on the case.
Along the way of she meets some of Gus old group, gets shot at. And it doesn't help that her spooky client isn't exactly telling her the whole story. So between his lies(or should we say half truths or straight out omissions), the bullets and people in general who would rather her just let past stay in the past Pepper manages to prove that she is capable of more than she ever thought possible.
And along the way she does have some help. First and foremost one Dan Callahan, PhD. Who is interested in her brain(OK as a geek I wouldn't even use that line) since her accident. Then there is Detective Quinn Harrison. It doesn't hurt that both are extremely sexy and that she would just love to fill her social calender with either of them(ever since her ex dropped her like a hot potato her social calender hasn't exactly been full).
But even though she has no experience doing detective work(watching Columbo doesn't count) she by sheer determination manages to find Gus's killer.
Casey Daniels here has written a superb debut novel. Introducing a character that has heart and determination. Even though she would rather be working at some high end department store she still keeps her chin up. Though she may not be a genius she isn't stupid by no means. She will and can be as stubborn as a mule. And it is that stubbornness that enables to keep going when her live is on the line and all senses tell her to walk away.
So when the murder is solved and Gus goes off with Sinatra singing she thinks now it's over. But when she gets back to her office there is a young lady there and she says
"Hiya, honey," "Gus sent me"
In The Chick and the Dead Pepper meets Didi Bowman who yes is a ghost. But after solving Gus's murder Pepper was hoping that the whole seeing ghost, solving their murders was over.
But Didi doesn't want her murder solved. She says she wasn't even murder, but committed suicide. Didi says that her sister, Merlee, took credit for the Book she wrote called So Far The Dawn that was written fifty years ago(think Gone with the Wind but instead of in Hot 'Lanta in Chilly Cleavland). A book that would go to be an international bestseller and of course made into a movie.
And Merlee is returning to Cleavland where the book was written to celebrate the digitally remastered film adapted from the book.
But even before she can start to look into it the cemetery becomes a media circus. Fans of both the book and movie swarm the place along with reporters from both TV and the newspapers.
And when Marlee arrives things start to happen. a photographer gets hit on the head and his camera is stolen at the cemetery and then Marlee personal assistant dies(she tied the laces of her corset too tight and suffocated while trying on a dress for the big movie celebration so it looks like).
So this gives Pepper the opportunity to get to work next to Marlee to uncover the truth. Since her job as tour guide has been temporally suspended do to the press and visit from Marlee.
Along the way Pepper discovers Didi's illegitimate granddaughter and most importantly she find out that Didi did not commit suicide as she believed but was murdered. It appears that that fifty years she been hearing how she committed suicide to the point that she believed it her self. And the list of suspect isn't short.
While this is going on Dan Callahan has been sneaking around taking pictures warning her that she is dealing with forces she doesn't understand dealing with ghosts. Then there is Detective Harrison who is trying to figure out why she is always around murders as of late.
So after she solves Didi's murder and helps her get the credit she deserves for writing So Far the Dawn she see another ghost. And as she leaves with friends(Didi's granddaughter who know is rich thanks to the royalties) she knows that she will be seeing him again.
Also in this book Daniels adds some more layer to what ghost can and can not do. As with Gus they can not touch any one or anything. But Pepper finds out that ghost can change their appearance or at least what they appear to be wearing. Then when Didi was remembering how she died some how because of her or something else Pepper was somehow transported to the bridge where Didi was suppose to have committed suicide and time to witness what happened and to the fact that she was murdered. Now was the transportation actually physical or not is left up in the air. Though I think it was for real. She became a witness but unable to interfere since it was the past.
Once again Miss Daniels has written a nicely plot with wonderful characters to match. And she keeps throwing enough curves to keep you guessing even if you you think you know Who Done It. In this book we start to see Pepper grow as a Private Investigator to the dead. And she is such a fun character to read. Feisty, stubborn and really not as shallow as she first appears. With her gift she now sees the world in a different way(not the way she likes it) and even as she fights it she knows she is the only one who can help these ghost. It is as Didi tells her when they first meet:
"Thanks to that accident of yours, you have what's officially known as the gift"
After last the last investigation, Pepper isn't happy when Rock Star Damon Curtis shows up. After all she has managed to go a few months with out another encounter a ghost or as she puts it, "the woo woo kind".
Enter Damon Curtis lead singer and song writer for one the most famous rock groups, Mind at Large. And as you can figure out is a ghost. Has been dead since 71 of an accidental overdose(like you believe that). So what can be keeping him from moving?
In Daniels 3rd installment of the Pepper Martin Series, Tombs of Endearment we learn more of the supernatural world that Pepper has become involved with since the first book.
It appear that one of Damon's former band mates, Vinnie is some how channeling Damon for songs. Since Damon was the writer of the bands songs and what made the group famous it appears that Vinnie wants to use Damon's spirit to write more songs and take credit for them.
So as Pepper goes to Vinnie to make him stop so Damon can move on she finds him dying with a knife in his heart(and he the lucky one he gets to move into the light). But then Damon should have been able to move on right? Well it isn't that easy. Damon still around and then the rest of Mind at Large is running for their lives after another member almost get killed by a falling spot light hours after Vinnie's death.
Following the clues, suspects galore, ghost hunters and half crazed fans Pepper find that that the world of Rock N Roll isn't all fun and games. And all the while just maybe falling for a dead Rock N' Roll star.
And back again is Dan Callahan with more dire warnings about ghost and magic And just why is he following Pepper? Then Detective Harrison is once again wondering why Pepper keeps around when people are either dying or dead. And to add to the complication Pepper can't seem to decide who she wants more Dan or Quinn.
As with the second novel Casey Daniels slowly adds layers to the supernatural universe that Pepper resides in. Making this book as much fun to read as the first two. The scene where Pepper finds Vinnie and actually sees him die and the move on into the light shows that she can see more than just the ghosts themselves. And as Vinnie was dying he was able to see Damon's ghost as well(I forget to mention that Gus's murderer in the first book was able to see him just as they was dying).
This book is as fun to read as the other two. Once again Pepper's voice is what makes this series a joy to read. As with other ghosts Pepper is at first reluctant to get involved but once she gets going she keep at until the truth is know and of course Damon is able to move on.
And now the fourth installment of the series, Night of the Loving Dead Pepper takes a vacation from Cleveland to go to Chicago. Actually it's more of a work related vacation. It seems her boss was suppose to go there for some big seminar on cemeteries. So she sends Pepper there in here place.
Where on tour of a local cemetery she meets her latest ghostly client Madeline Tremayne. Dead for about 3 years, killed by a mugger she isn't here for her murderer to caught(dead from a drug overdose) but needs to Pepper to protect Dan Callahan.
It seems that Madeline and Dan worked together with a Dr. Hilton Gerard. Gerard is a famous doctor who works with the mentally ill especially with the poor and homeless. Madeline thinks Gerard is doing some unethical things and is afraid that Dan will be blamed for them and maybe go to prison for them.
As Pepper investigates(and yes once again reluctantly but more so because she really doesn't like her current client) she finds that people are disappearing who are going to Gerard's Clinic and never seen again. Is famous doctor doing taking people and doing illegal and unethical experiments? If so just what is Gerard trying to find by doing these experiments? And how are these connected to Dan?
The answers is ghosts. It appears Gerard is trying to find people who can contact ghost or the spirit world. And Dan's reason for wanting to is to contact his dead wife, none other than Madeline herself.
This cause a fight between the two after Pepper tells him the truth about what she can do. At first he believes her when she says why she was at Gerard's clinic but later finds no record of her being there so thinks she was lying.
As the mystery deepens she has to deal with what appears to be a homeless man following her, death of a homeless woman who was last seen leaving the Gerard Clinic with Pepper. And also there is a strange shadow with glowing eyes who keeps appearing and disappearing and from what Pepper can clearly see is no ghost.
So Pepper puts herself on the front line. By volunteering for Gerard's little experiment. This gets her kidnapped and taken to where all the homeless have been taken. Including Ernie, homeless man that Pepper questioned for information on to who may have been taken and to where who gets taken himself. As captive Gerard explains his goals to contact people like Shakespeare, Einstein and others to question them and use what they tell him to make millions.
She gets away with the help of Dan and it is then we learn the real reason that Madeline has not crossed over(well one of the reasons anyway). She wants Pepper body. When she was alive and doing research for Gerard she came across old spells that allow a ghost to switch bodies. And if her plans work it will be Pepper that will disappear for ever.
So with the help of recently deceased, Ernie, Pepper solves the mystery of the disappearing people and finds that Madeline's murderer was actually paid to kill her by Gerard. Dan also learns that some other things about his deceased wife that he would rather of not known.
Once again Daniels has expanded on the supernatural world of Pepper's. For example here we learn if you are recently dead and not have passed you can actually touch objects but only for a short period. And it is here that for the first time Pepper sees more that one ghost. While escaping the place where Gerard took her he sees all the ghost of the people Gerard has killed in his experiments.
As with the first 3 books Casey Daniels as written and wonderfully engaging mystery with equally engaging characters. As as always it is Pepper that drives these books and makes them so much fun to read. Between the first and last page this series just keeps getting better. Miss Daniels knows how to write a mystery that is both engaging and fun to read. She keeps you guessing up the end. And even if you may know who the murderer is she throws enough curves in there to make you second guess yourself sometimes(I would say that in Chick and the Dead the murderer's identity was more obvious than the other three but still a fun read).
So if you love mysteries and especially mystery series then the Pepper Martin series is one that will satify your cravings.