Book Review: The Ghost and the Stolen Tears by Cleo Coyle
The latest terrific installment of the Haunted Bookshop mystery series finds our heroine Penelope Thornton-McClure ready to be the bearer of good news. Ever since her latest part-time employee, Norma Stanton, started working at her bookstore, sales have gone up. Penny and her co-owner, her Aunt Sadie, had been considering closing on Sundays in order to maintain cost-effectiveness. Norma’s book empathy and skill at sales however have convinced them to stay open seven days a week, if Norma will accept their offer of a steady job.
The main issue is that Norma is a nomad, moving seasonally and having no fixed address for her teardrop trailer house. She’s been in Quindicott, Rhode Island for a while though and seems likely to winter there, prompting Penny’s job offer. Norma has also been working part-time cleaning rooms at the nearby Finch Inn, which is where the trouble starts when an influencer guest accuses Norma of stealing her valuable set of heirloom jewelry.
The Tears of Valentino have a long and storied history, with a chapter involving the now-dead private investigator, Jack Shepard. He and Penny have an unusual connection, beginning, more or less, with his death decades earlier:
Why exactly the gallant gumshoe was gunned down on our premises, I don’t know, but the question felt fitting, given our shop’s specialty. We sell all kinds of books, you see, but we specialize in crime and mystery fiction. Not that everyone <i>likes</i> a mystery–literary or otherwise.
If a doorway opened to a darkened room, would you walk through it? Or swiftly pass it by? If a disembodied voice started giving you advice, would you listen? Or plug your ears and cover your eyes?
As Penny is the kind of person who fully embraces curiosity, she’s welcomed Jack’s spectral presence in her life, often relying on him to help her solve the mysteries that have plagued her since moving back to Quindicott as a young widowed mother. While she’s no closer to unraveling the truth of Jack’s demise, she has found his experience invaluable, especially when her current conundrums find parallels to, if not outright connections with, the cases he investigated during his own lifetime.
In this instance, Jack had also once been hired to retrieve the missing Tears of Valentino, and found himself investigating the cold-blooded murders of several of the people who came into contact with the iconic jewelry set. As Penny goes looking for Norma, who’s disappeared in the wake of the accusation, she stumbles across a trail of bodies herself, and comes far too close to the crosshairs of a killer. Luckily, Jack is watching out for her, even in his limited capacity as a phantom:
Showered with wood splinters from the trunk, I realized with a chilling shock that someone had taken a shot at me!
That’s right, doll, Jack roared in my head. Lucky for you I was here to knock you clear!
“Jack!” I cried (fully out loud).
Are you nuts? Running through the woods after someone with a gat in their hand?
“I thought I was chasing Norma!”
That’s when I realized there were footprints in the mud. More accurately, boot prints–and big ones, too.
That foot’s the size of a U-boat. Unless Norma joined the circus and got herself some clown shoes, those aren’t her prints.
The action switches back and forth between Jack’s life in mid-century New York City and his afterlife in present-day Rhode Island, as he and Penny join forces in both timelines to recover the jewels and bring several merciless killers to justice.
I love how this series plays with time and genre to present its wholly satisfying mysteries, interspersing hardboiled gumshoe noir with cozy small town hijinks via paranormal means. This installment was very much inspired by The Maltese Falcon, though the Tears themselves are far less of a MacGuffin than that other fictional treasure.
It was also great to spend time with Jack and Penny and especially Penny’s friends and family in the present day. In addition to her precocious teenager Spencer, her best friends Brainert and Seymour are delightfully colorful. The elusive Norma is also an excellent addition to the series, for as long as she sticks around.
I’m very glad that Cleo Coyle was able to keep going with this relentlessly entertaining series after their long hiatus, and hope to see many more books before, or even after, we finally figure out what really happened to Jack all those years ago. The series is a fun genre mash-up with a delightful cast of characters, and I’m excited to read more!