REVIEW: Night of the Living Deed

Night of the Living Deed by E.J. Copperman
Berkley, June 2010

Rating: 10

When Alison Kerby and her young daughter, Melissa, buy a rambling old house on the Jersey Shore and start making plans to turn the place into a guesthouse, they don't expect to have lodgers before the renovations are even complete. They also don't expect for those lodgers to be ghosts. As it turns out, the house is haunted by the spirits of Maxie Malone and Paul Harrison -- the house's previous owner and the private investigator she hired to discover who was sending her anonymous threats. The pair's deaths were initially ruled a double suicide, but Alison's determined to get the investigation re-opened -- particularly since Paul and Maxie refuse to leave her alone and let her finish her renovations until their murderer is brought to justice. But when Alison starts receiving threatening messages herself, she's forced to wonder: will she solve the case in time to avoid becoming the house's newest ghostly guest?

Night of the Living Deed is the first in E. J. Copperman's new Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series. It's Topper meets Beetlejuice with a dash of This Old House thrown in for good measure, and it's one of the best mysteries I've read this year.

The prose starts out a little clunky, but Copperman quickly finds Alison's voice, and when he does, the book just comes alive. The plot is tight, the narration is propulsive, and the mystery is clever and kept me guessing until the very end. The list of suspects is long, but not too, and Copperman drops clues in all the right places. The pacing is perfect, the dialogue is witty and natural, and the book is quite simply a pleasure to read from start to finish.

Alison is a smart, strong, independent single mother who makes for a fabulous amateur sleuth and a winsome heroine. Melissa is neither precious or precocious and actually makes for a remarkably good sidekick, and Maxie and Paul may be ghosts, but they're two of the best supporting characters I've ever read. Petulant poltergeist-with-a-heart-of-gold Maxie is characterization at its finest; simultaneously hilarious and charming, her antics and snarky banter will keep you roaring, and the sweet relationship she shares with Melissa will warm your heart. And for his part, ghostly P. I. Paul is a nice twist on the star-crossed love interest (a concept I expect Copperman will have a great deal of fun exploring in later books) and is the perfect impetus to get Alison involved in this and future investigations. He's sweet, charming, and doggedly persistent, and is hands-down a more compelling disembodied detective than Alice Kimberly's Jack Shepard.

With Night of the Living Deed, E. J. Copperman has created a haunted guesthouse that just begs for an extended stay. What are you waiting for? Run out (right now!) and buy yourself a copy; you can thank me later.

*Note: I purchased this book with my own money; it was not provided to me by the author or his publisher.