Book Review: Curses Are for Cads by Tamara Berry
In the third installment in Tamara Berry’s cozy mystery series, Eleanor Wilde is summoned to a remote Scottish castle for an unusual assignment to locate a haunted trove of treasure that will threaten Eleanor’s budding romance, her livelihood…and her life!
Tamara Berry continues to go from strength to strength in this third installment of her terrific paranormal cozy mystery series. Village witch Eleanor Wilde is looking forward to a nice sunny vacation in Malta with her wealthy beau Nicholas Hartford, when he surprises her with another tantalizing invitation instead. It seems that one of his school chums has a situation that requires a medium, and so he dangles the prospect of a free trip to the Scottish Hebrides for Eleanor — or Madame Eleanor, as she’s known professionally — to undertake. Far be it from our intrepid heroine to turn down such an opportunity, so she immediately packs her bags to head north.
Inauspiciously, Nicholas is called away on business right at the start meaning that Eleanor must forgo the private plane he pilots in favor of taking a long train ride to her destination. Nicholas, with his usual blend of skepticism and support, assures her that traveling by train will give her plenty of time to prepare herself for what’s to come. What she isn’t prepared for is the sudden appearance of famed medium Birdie White, who plonks herself down in the seat right next to Eleanor on the train.
Birdie claims to have been summoned north by the spirit of Glenn Stewart, whose death set all this in motion. Turns out that the Stewart family has long been the steward of a treasure cursed back in the days of Elizabeth I. Glenn died without informing his heirs of the current whereabouts of the treasure, and so his children, Sid and Ashley, want a medium to help them contact him so they can make sure it’s properly safeguarded before the curse can strike again.
The thing is, Eleanor isn’t really a medium. She’s essentially a con artist, but figures that charging money for pacifying fears and ensuring peace of mind isn’t the most dishonorable profession, especially since she takes care to try to leave people in a better state than when she found them. Taking on the Stewart case is, for her, an exercise in treasure hunting under the theatrical guise of communing with the spirit world. Having a “real” medium on the scene, however, is throwing all her plans into disarray:
It’s not that I begrudge her this opportunity to show off; it’s that she’s doing it before I’ve had a chance. I’m not 100 percent sure of her game just yet, but there’s no denying that she’s trying to outplay me. Outplay me, outperform me, and out-psychic me.
The worst part is, she’s succeeding at it. I could almost curse Nicholas–yes, curse him–for foisting this job on me with all of twelve hours’ advance warning. There’s no denying that Birdie has done her homework. She knows about the Stewart family, about this house, about [the] curse… and about me.
Birdie certainly acts the part of a genuine spirit channeler and worse, is constantly getting in Eleanor’s way as she tries to investigate the missing treasure without giving up her ruse. Further adding to Eleanor’s chagrin is Birdie’s insistence that the curse has been responsible for not only Glenn’s demise but also the deaths of many of the family’s loved ones. Eleanor believes that their job is to reassure survivors, not terrify them. But when the power goes out on the Stewarts’ remote island and someone is actually murdered, Eleanor not only finds herself at a loss for what to do next but in a vulnerable position to the one spirit that she actually can hear, her dead sister Winnie:
I open my mouth and close it again, unable to find the right words to bring Sid the comfort and confidence [needed]. Modesty isn’t a trait I normally wrestle with in moments like these, so it’s a new kind of struggle for me. I’ve always been more of a shrieking eel than a shrinking violet, slippery and vociferous about my psychic abilities, but something about this particular case has me feeling uneasy.
For the first time in my life, I don’t want to stand up on a table and mystify the room with my capabilities. Perhaps it’s seeing what Birdie looks like when she’s trying so hard to be profound, but it feels like something more, something deeper.
Something real? Winnie suggests.
Eleanor’s continuing development as a real psychic is only one of the highlights of this thoroughly delightful cozy mystery. The perfect balance between skepticism and spiritualism is rivaled only by Tamara Berry’s ability to blend humor with pathos, as Eleanor seeks to (rationally) solve the case of the cursed treasure while trying not to freak out at the actual paranormal activity around her. She’s a wonderful protagonist whose charm continues unabated from the first two books, and I’m so very much looking forward to reading what she does next.