The Perfect Ghost by Linda Barnes is a standalone novel set on Cape Cod in which a writer must overcome her phobias so she can unravel the mystery of a friend’s death (available April 9, 2013).
When The Perfect Ghost begins, Teddy (Theodore Blake) has just died in a car crash, leaving his partner Em Moore bereft. They were partner ghostwriters and Em is afraid that the publisher will take away the advance and cancel the project, a biography of a famous actor/director Garrett Malcolm. After all, Teddy was the face of the duo. And everyone knows Malcolm doesn’t like working with women.
In fact, Em is a timid soul, afraid of almost everything and living on a steady diet of Xanax. Since The Perfect Ghost is written in the first person, we have a front row seat to her terrors. Gradually, we come to know Teddy too, since she addresses her comments to him, almost as though this written document is a diary written for his approval.
Teddy, who began the interviewing before his death, taped everything, not only his talks with Garrett Malcolm, but with everyone who was ever connected with the great director. The list includes cousin Jamie Foley and a drunken has-been actor Brooklyn Pierce who achieved his first and greatest fame in Malcolm’s earliest films. The texts of these interviews are included verbatim as Em listens to them, a wonderful way of engaging the reader up close and personal to action that took place months earlier.
When Jonathon, the editor, gets the go-ahead for the project, Em drives to Cape Cod for the final meetings with the alluring Garrett Malcolm. At first just an observer, Em gradually becomes a player in the action. Secrets are uncovered, both recent and from the past. The final pages are riveting.
Although I was a little disconcerted by the immediacy of the first person narrative, I quickly became hooked. I read The Perfect Ghost in one sitting. The final few twists at the end caught me totally by surprise and left me breathless. (I won’t share them; no spoilers here.)
All the pieces of this mystery are compelling but I was haunted by the evolution of Em’s character. From someone terrified of life, Em changes into a much stronger individual; a person, unfortunately, who is not all that likeable but completely believable. And, despite sharing Em’s journey every step of the way, Linda Barnes manages to make not just one but two twists both surprising and shocking.
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Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition. A career librarian, her second novel, Death of a Dyer, will be out in 2013. She lives in New York.