I borrowed this from my public library's ecloud collection because . . . I did. It has a lot of colors on the cover, so maybe I'll use it for that Festive Holiday square, whenever I get around to toting them up.
Mel Turner -- her first name is Melanie -- is in the process of taking over her father's construction company. Mostly they do remodels and historic restoration, but she's currently involved with some volunteer group that rehabs older homes for low income people.
She also sees ghosts.
While she's working on this rehab job for Monty, a whiny guy who needs a wheelchair ramp added to his home and a new roof and a bunch of other stuff, she keeps seeing ghosts in the big, mansion-y vacant house next door. Then a recently deceased body is discovered in a storage shed that serves both Monty's property and the vacant house.
The vacant house, she learns, was the site of a horrific murder-suicide. Are the ghosts she keeps seeing related to that? And what about the body in the shed?
For the uncritical reader who's looking for some light entertainment with a bit of a mystery, this might do fine. For me, it was just blah on a whole lot of levels. So, now there will be lots of little spoilers.
There was very little with the ghosts, for one thing. Mel sees them in the house while she's working on the rehab project, but she doesn't show much reaction. This isn't the first book in the series, so maybe there's more shock, surprise, disbelief, whatever in earlier volumes, but there sure wasn't much in this one.
The mystery to do with the two murders, both the body in the shed and the other one thirty years before, seemed a minor part of the book. The information about the older crime was easily obtained from neighbors who had lived there at the time and from the lone survivor.
I'm not sure why I didn't buy the character of Hugh, the boy who escaped the murder scene and went on to an illustrious writing career. He seemed too emotionally fragile. Nor did I buy Simone, his wife. Both of them lacked substance, though I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe if I were giving this book a thorough analysis I would look at them more closely, but while I was reading it, I just didn't care about them.
There were a lot of secondary characters who never came alive for me either. Mel's dad was a little better than cardboard, but not much. Then there was Stan, and I didn't really know how he fit into the picture. Mel's sister was just another cartoon character; there was so much room for development there that I could have wept when it all just went poof! in a happy smiley explosion of unicorn glitter. The semi-sorta boyfriend Graham actually had more substance.
Two elements of the overall characterization rang sour notes for me. Hugh and Simone were flat, but not sour. Monty was just all wrong.
Supposedly he was in some kind of accident and that's why he's now unable to walk and in a wheelchair. How long ago this was, I'm not sure, but he's been unable to leave his house unassisted ever since. Now all of a sudden he's finally getting a ramp installed so he can come and go as he pleases. There's no mention of any social services that come to his assistance -- shopping? doctor visits? -- or what kind of income he has. There's an assumption that he gets a disability income.
However, as soon as there are suspicions that Monty is in fact not disabled and is faking his reliance on the wheelchair, I saw lots of red flags. Social Security doesn't just grant disability payments because you apply for them. There has to be evidence, as in doctors' statements and so on, that the person really can't work. He would have been found out a long time ago.
I also didn't quite understand how and where he originally found the body, but that may be due as much to my not paying attention because I had lost interest as anything else. Nor was there ever a clear explanation of how that death tied in to the rest of them -- was the victim killed by the same killer, or was it an accident, or what?
Monty turned out to be kind of a slimeball, though he wasn't the killer -- ooops, sorry for that spoiler -- but the character who really wrinkled my nose was Mel herself. Her silly spangles-and-fringe dresses worn with steel-toed work boots just seemed . . . stupid. Stupid as in gimmickry for the sake of gimmickry. No reason was ever given, or at least not one that made any sense. She's supposed to be running a contracting business; why dress like a phantom from the 1960s caught in a time warp?
This wasn't a particularly long book -- I read it comfortably in a day -- and maybe that was its problem. With all the various threads going on, maybe it needed to be longer, more like the hefty books of Rendell and Grimes that allowed for the interweaving of personal and professional life along with the details and atmosphere of vocation and location.
The details of a single historic San Francisco home would have made wonderful atmosphere, but author Blackwell didn't dwell as much on that as she did on the two smaller homes in the neighborhood that weren't involved in the mystery or the ghosts. The "Murder House" should have had star billing, and the appropriate weight in the text. I felt it got shortchanged.
The writing was okay, other than that one horrible paragraph where everything sat, sat, sat, sat, sat on Hugh's desk, but it wasn't anything special either.
As I said, other readers may enjoy this. It just wasn't all that great for me.