Monday, June 21, 2021

#Review - Haunted Homicide by Lucy Ness #Mystery #Cozy

Series: A Haunted Mansion Mystery (#1)
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Release Date: September 29, 2020
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Library
Genre: Mystery & Detective / Amateur Sleuth

Avery Morgan has been hired to breathe new life into the Portage Path Women’s Club, but first she’ll have to deal with a dead body and a meddling ghost.

Avery Morgan has had a harrowing first week on the job as manager of the Portage Path Woman’s Club. Not only is she in charge of a grand old home with a mountain of maintenance problems and scheduling nightmares—thanks to a recent fire in the Marigold meeting room—but she’s also got Muriel Sadler to deal with. Muriel is the current president of the club, the one “nay” vote when the rest of the board voted “aye” to hiring Avery.

After a morning of dealing with another one of Muriel’s snits and a meeting with the delicious and delightfully unsettling Ben Harkness, who will be handling renovations in the fire-damaged portions of the house, the last thing Avery needs is for one of the fuses to blow. Again.

She grabs her handy flashlight and heads into the basement, where she stumbles across Muriel’s body. She also stumbles across an unexpected helper, Clemmie Bow, the ghost of a young woman who was accidentally killed in the building almost a hundred years ago.

Together Clemmie and Avery are determined to solve Muriel’s murder before the killer sends Avery to join Clemmie on the other side.

Haunted Homicide is the first installment in author Lucy Ness's Haunted Mansion Mystery series. 29-year-old Avery Morgan left home in Lily Dale, NY to take a job managing the Portage Path Women’s Club in Ohio, hoping for a fresh start. She is to take up the position of business manager for the Portage Path Women's Club hoping to revitalize the historical club. But things aren't exactly smooth. The club is faltering, membership is dwindling, a member claims she accidentally set a fire to a room where the clubs records are kept which now needs to be restored, and the clubs President was outvoted in hiring Avery for the position because she wanted someone else. 
To make matters worse, not only is she in charge of a grand old home with a mountain of maintenance problems and scheduling nightmares with a dwindling staff thanks to Muriel's backstabbing, but things are going to get even worse. After a morning of dealing with Ben Harkness, who will be handling renovations in the fire-damaged portions of the house, the last thing Avery needs is for one of the fuses to blow. Again. She grabs her handy flashlight and heads into the basement, where she discovers Muriel's body. 
She also stumbles across Clemmie Bow, flapper ghost of a young woman who was accidentally killed in the building almost a hundred years ago. The murder just adds another strike against the PPWC, and the remaining board members ask Avery to see if she can help figure out who murdered Muriel. Curiously, about everyone associated with Muriel and the club has a motive for murder. To make things even more twisted, Avery's room is trashed and personal items are missing. As Avery and her new ghost friend start digging around to find the truth, things get even darker and the club's reputation might take an unrecoverable hit. 
Can Avery solve whodunit with the help of Clemmie  She will have help from Sergeant Alterman, known to his friends as Oz, and some of the women from the Portage Path Woman’ Club who may or may not have their own secrets to hide. This story doesn't have a romance angle, but it is more than likely there will be one in the near future.
This review is based on a complimentary book I received from NetGalley. It is an honest and voluntary review. The complimentary receipt of it in no way affected my review or rating.

Chapter 1

You’re not wearing that, are you?“

Just inside the massive double doors that led into the Portage Path Women’s Club, I froze, dropped the suitcase I was carrying, and automatically looked from where Muriel Sadler stood tapping the toe of one expensive pump against the marble floor down to my outfit.

Black pants.

Red scoop-necked T-shirt.

Black flats.

Yes indeed, it looked like I was wearing that. In fact, I’d been wearing it since early that morning when I loaded up my car outside of Cassadaga, New York, and drove the 170 miles to Portage Path, Ohio, thirty miles south of Cleveland. The outfit was comfortable and, thank goodness, it was forgiving. Just ask the double mocha latte I’d picked up at a drive-through outside of Erie and promptly spilled down the front of me.

The good news? Mocha blends pretty well with red, and the morning sun was behind me.

”It’s nice to see you again, Ms. Sadler.“ Oh yeah, my voice was as dazzling as the crystal chandelier that hung high above us in the two-story entryway. I added a smile to go with it when I stepped forward, my hand extended. ”I didn’t think I’d see you until later this afternoon.“

”Obviously.“ She looked me up and down, but she didn’t take my hand. In fact, Muriel’s top lip curled and left a smudge of rose-petal pink lipstick on her dentures. Muriel was five feet nothing and as big around as a strand of angel hair pasta. She was dressed in a matching brocade jacket and skirt in the same delicate shade of blue as her hair. A touch of understated blusher on her cheeks. A couple rings that were sparkling but not too gaudy. A brooch pinned near her left lapel, a swirling loop of letters crafted in gold that caught the morning sunlight and flashed in my eyes.


Portage Path Women’s Club.

My new employer.

I told myself not to forget it and kept my smile firmly in place. I might be the new kid on the block, but I was no dummy. The next day would be my first on the job as the club’s business manager, but I already knew the lay of the land-I had impressed every single member of the club’s board in the in-person interview that had gotten me the job.

Everyone but Muriel.

Luckily, she was just one vote, even if she was club president.

And I knew I would need her backing if I ever hoped to accomplish anything and keep the job, the decent salary, and the chance to start out fresh in a place that was nowhere near my lovable (but crazy) aunt Rosemary and her lovable (but crazy) friends and the retreat center back in Lily Dale, New York, that they’d just opened and wanted me to run. Don’t get me wrong; I like a challenge as much as the next type A person. It should be noted, though, that I do not like challenges that involve Rosemary’s wacky ideas about all things woo-woo, including spirit visitations and astral projection. She may be my mother’s only sister, and yes, she raised me. I will even go so far as to admit that I share her DNA when it comes to blue eyes, honey-blonde hair, and a soaring height of five feet ten inches, but believe me, that’s where the similarities between me and Rosemary end. She’s a medium, see. Which has nothing to do with size, and means she talks to the dead.

Me talking to the dead? Not so much.

And let me say, that suits me just fine.

While I was thinking about all this and considering my options (which were basically zero because, like I said, my job was all about keeping the members of PPWC happy, starting with Numero Uno herself), Muriel was watching me closely. She had eyes the color of the massive wooden front desk, where, starting the next day, I’d station myself and make sure the club ran like a well-oiled machine. I’d welcome members and their guests, schedule club activities that included everything from book discussion groups to a classic movie club, work to bring in revenue by securing outside conferences and events at the old mansion that was the club’s home, and deal with staff and members.

Including Muriel Sadler.

Yeah, by this time, my smile was a little stiff around the edges.

No matter. Smiling to beat the band, I grabbed my suitcase. ”I’ll just head upstairs to my suite and get settled,“ I told Muriel. ”I’ll meet you back down here and we can have lunch together like we planned last time we talked.“

”Oh no!“ She latched onto my arm. ”There’s no time for that. And no time for you to change, either.“ Another look at my outfit. Another curl of the lip. ”We need to get up to Marigold and be ready when he arrives.“

”It’s a little soon to be badgering Avery, don’t you think?“ The front door opened and slapped shut, and in spite of the fact that Muriel’s fingers dug into my skin, I was able to turn just in time to see Patricia Fink sail into the entryway like the Queen Mary approaching the dock. She, too, was one of the club’s board members, one of the women who’d supported my hiring. I certainly didn’t know her well, but in the times I’d talked to her, I’d learned she was a force to be reckoned with.

Patricia was squat, muscular, and younger (a relative word) than most of the other women I’d met at PPWC. She was dressed sensibly in tweed pants and an ochre blazer, the color a perfect match to the autumn leaves on the tree that shaded the front door. I’d gone through two extensive phone conference calls and one in-person interview before I’d been offered the job and in that time, I’d found out Patricia did not suffer fools gladly.

I was lucky to have her on my side.

”Give the poor girl a break, Muriel.“ As expertly as if she did it all the time-and for all I know, she did-Patricia saved me from Muriel’s clutches by untangling Muriel’s hand from my arm. ”From the looks of her, I’d say she just got out of the car. It’s too soon to start harassing her. And besides, she’s not even supposed to officially start the job until tomorrow.“

Now that her hands were free, Muriel gripped them at her waist. ”All well and good, but we’ve got to get up to Marigold. The restorationist will be here in a little while.“ Her gaze slid ever so briefly to mine. ”It’s a business meeting. Which explains why we’re dressed appropriately.“

I’ve worked in the hospitality industry all my adult life and just for the record, I’m twenty-nine. That’s a lot of years of bussing tables, taking orders, working behind the front desk of a hotel, setting up business meetings and catering menus, and (the worst of the worst) wedding planning. I was used to biting my tongue. Being gracious. Keeping my mouth shut and my smile in place.

But honestly, there’s only so much anyone can take.

I had just opened my mouth to cut Muriel off at the knees when Patricia intervened.

”Marigold is a disaster, our records were nearly destroyed, and the only thing you can think about is what Avery is wearing?“ Her snort told Muriel she didn’t need an answer. ”By the time we’re done up there, we’re all going to smell like smoke and Muriel, that pretty little Armani suit of yours is going to get as ashy as hell. Looks like when it comes to knowing what to wear, Avery is the only one of us with any sense.“

It was, apparently, the first Muriel thought of this, because her face paled and her hand slipped down the delicious fabric of her jacket-a loving, protective touch.

All well and good. While she composed herself, I had a chance to turn to Patricia and ask, ”What’s going on?“

”You don’t know, do you? Well, you wouldn’t. It happened just last week. After you’d already been hired.“ The front door opened again and Gracie Grimm slipped in. Another member of the board, Gracie was proud of telling people she was ”older than dirt,“ and that because of it, she was the club’s historian. ”No wonder,“ I’d heard her chuckle. ”I’m the only one left who remembers most of the club’s history!“

Just as I’d seen her the last time I was there, Gracie was dressed all in gray. With her tiny hands and feet and a little bit of an overbite, she reminded me of a mouse.

I’m not sure how, but Gracie knew exactly what Patricia was talking about and jumped right into the conversation.

”It’s the fire, dear,“ Gracie said, closing in on me. I couldn’t decide if it was her shoes or her voice that squeaked. ”Just a week ago. Up in the Marigold Room. Awful thing.“ She shook her head, and her neatly styled silver hair bobbed around her chin. ”So many of the old papers destroyed.“

I remembered seeing the room when I’d toured the club before my final interview. Sure I was a newbie, but that didn’t make me feel the loss any less keenly. ”That’s terrible! What happened?“

Gracie and Patricia exchanged looks. Muriel’s left eyebrow slanted.

”Accident,“ Patricia said.

”So unfortunate.“ Gracie’s eyes were gray too, and they welled with tears.

”Ridiculous.“ Muriel spit out the word. ”If it wasn’t for Agnes Yarborough being such a careless-“

When the door opened again, Muriel swallowed her words.

Something told me it didn’t matter. From the way Agnes Yarborough’s lips pinched when she joined us, I could tell she’d heard what we were talking about.

”Is he here yet?“ Agnes asked. Obviously, he wasn’t, but she looked around anyway, as if the mysterious he might be crouched behind my desk or peering at us over the mahogany bannister of the stairway that led up to the second floor. Agnes wasn’t as old as Gracie. She wasn’t as young as Patricia. In fact, Agnes had one of those timeless faces, wrinkle free, that made it impossible to tell for certain just how old she might be. Then again, I remembered what she’d told me when I was there for my interview-Agnes’s mother had once been president of the club. Her grandmother had once been president of the club. Age aside, Agnes had pedigree, and an air about her that said she came from money and privilege.

She was obviously right at home at PPWC.

”He said eleven o’clock,“ Patricia informed Agnes.

Muriel sniffed. In a ladylike way, of course. ”That’s what he said last time. And he showed up at nearly half past.“

”It’s not like it matters.“ Gracie glanced around. The Carnation Room, where members played cards, was just down the hallway, empty at this time of day. The Rose Garden Restaurant was just beyond that-a place for members and their guests to dine-and from the way the waitress stood at the front reception desk with her hands clutched behind her back and the mother of all bored expressions on her face, my guess was she wasn’t expecting anyone for lunch anytime soon. In fact, she might not be expecting anyone at all except me and Muriel, and our luncheon appointment wasn’t for another hour and a half.

Gracie’s voice was heavy. Her shoulders heaved. ”It’s not like we’re doing anything else around here these days, anyway.“

Call me crazy (and just for the record, Aunt Rosemary did when she learned I was taking a real job over the one she’d offered at the woo-woo retreat), but I just couldn’t stand there and watch the pall settle. Okay. All right. I knew what these women knew. The once-thriving PPWC was down on its luck. Back in the day, membership stood at more than two thousand. And now? Well, I knew the number because I’d seen the books, and I’d seen the books because I wanted to know what I was getting into, and once I knew what I was getting into…

Well, remember what I said.

I’m always up for a challenge.

These days, the PPWC numbered exactly eighty-nine members.

The mansion went empty and unused for days at a time.

The various special interest groups that used to fill the rooms to put together puzzles or host tea parties or work on their needlework or talk politics and history were down to only a few members, most of them too elderly or infirm to show up if the weather wasn’t perfect, the time wasn’t just right to work around their naps, or they happened to not be laid up with one ailment or another.

It was a sad commentary on a modern problem-how to make a dinosaur like a women’s club relevant in a society that was all about high tech and life that moved at the speed of light.

And exactly what I’d been hired to handle.

I gave myself a shake and a firm reminder not to forget it, and while I was at it, I reminded myself that (well, maybe not officially at that moment, but soon enough) I was in charge. The club was faltering? Membership numbers were abysmal? Nobody cared anymore about things like camaraderie, card games, and the intelligent exchange of ideas?

Well, I was going to change all that.

There was no time to start like the there and then.

My head high and my shoulders back, I scooted behind my desk, the better to peer at the screen of the computer there.

”Jack Harkness.“ I read the name on the day’s calendar, then looked from one woman to the other. ”He’s the restorationist?“

As one, they nodded.

”We need estimates,“ Muriel said.

”And a plan,“ Patricia agreed.

”And he’s a looker!“ Gracie gave me a wink.

”So until this restorationist gets here,“ I said, ”how about you fill me in. There was a fire last week. I got that much. What happened?“

A tear slipped down Gracie’s cheek.

Color rushed into Patricia’s face.

Muriel’s skin, already pale, blanched even further until I could see every vein in her neck and cheeks like cold blue rivers.

It was Agnes who finally spoke up.

Well, if snuffling, sniffling, then bursting into tears qualifies as speaking up.

”It was all my fault,“ Agnes wailed. ”I did it. I started the fire. And I…“ She sucked in a breath that made her words bounce around even more. ”I nearly got killed!"

Chapter 2

By the time we got Agnes calmed down (it wasn’t easy), it was fifteen minutes past eleven, but since there was no sign of the restorationist, I took the bull by the proverbial horns, told the waitress in the empty restaurant that we needed a pot of tea and we needed it pronto, and settled Agnes in the chair nearest to my desk. One by one, Muriel, Gracie, and Patricia pulled over chairs too, theirs clustered around Agnes’s in the sort of tight little circle I’d seen Aunt Rosemary use when the folks she called querents gathered around waiting for her to tap into the mumbo jumbo that supposedly connects her to the Other Side.

1 comment:

  1. Oh nice! I bought this one...awhile back...whenever it released! Lol. I haven't read it yet but I love a good ghostly mystery and this one looked like fun! Sounds like it was too! Nice review!