Author: Leigh Perry (pseudonym for Toni L.P. Kelner)
Series: FAMILY SKELETON SERIES
Plot Type: Cozy Paranormal Mystery (COZ)
Ratings: Violence—2-3; Sensuality—2; Humor—3
Publisher and Titles: Berkley Prime Crime Books
A Skeleton in the Family (9/2013)
What holiday could bring more warmth to a skeleton’s chest cavity than Halloween? And when you’re a living skeleton who’s not supposed to be seen outside the house, it’s a welcome chance to get some fresh air and rub bony elbows with people. That’s why Sid doesn’t mind wearing a full-body dog suit and going as Scooby-Doo along with Georgia Thackery’s Velma to the Halloween Howl.
It's late October in the college town of Pennycross, Massachusetts, and the campus is swarming with costumed students and townsfolk who are lining up to visit McHades, the college's haunted house fund-raiser. McHades is actually a long-empty former arts building called McQuaid Hall—named for the family who initially endowed the college back in the 1950s. This year, Georgia's sister, Deborah, is in charge of McHades, and Georgia's daughter, Madison, is one of the "scare actors."
On opening night, Georgia and Sid dress up as Velma and Scooby-Doo and head for McHades. Unfortunately, their visit comes to an abrupt halt when one of the customers stumbles across a murdered woman lying in a dark corner of the zombie party room. Deborah feels responsible for the young woman's death because she didn't insist that the McQuaid family give her money to install security cameras, so she asks Georgia (and Sid) to investigate the case.
The rest of the book proceeds just like the previous books. Georgia and Sid search for clues—with Georgia doing most of the legwork while Sid does Internet background checks on all of the suspects. Every 20 pages or so, they come up with a possible suspect or a likely clue, but nothing really pans out until the final pages, when the completely improbable showdown scene brings the matter to a complete—but, for me, unsatisfying—resolution. And don't get me started on the high school teacher who keeps a stuffed lion named Lance on her desk—a lion that somehow lets her know which students are to be trusted and which are bad apples. ("There are some students that I have no particular reason to dislike or distrust, yet on a subconscious level, I find myself getting anxious when they touch Lance." She goes on to tell Georgia that in the case of a particular student, "Lance didn't like her.")
In an earlier book, Georgia visited a traveling carnival to investigate Sid's history before he became a part of the Thackery family, and in this book that same carnival is set up across the street from the college. Members of the family that owns the carnival are important both to the main plot and to a subplot that brings romance into Georgia's life.
We also get to meet Georgia's parents, who arrive home unexpectedly from their lengthy European sabbatical trip.
Once again, the pace is leisurely, almost tranquilizing in its effects on this reader. Mostly, we watch Georgia and her family eat a LOT of meals—for example, breakfasts of pancakes, sausage, bacon, and/or omelets; lunches of sandwiches, salads, burgers, chips, and cookies; and dinners of spaghetti, chili, pizza, steaks, and Chinese-take-out—even deep-fried, high-cholesterol carny delicacies. It's probably best not to read this book when you're extremely hungry or after you have indulged in a huge meal. Almost every single meal is either mentioned in passing or described in great detail. This over-attention to food does nothing to advance the plot or provide insights into the characters (except that at one point Georgia resents her father's takeover of the kitchen, which has been hers all the while her parents were gone). Mostly this seems like padding to fill the book with enough pages to push it almost—but not quite—to the 300-page mark that generally separates a novel from a novella. Also contributing to the padding is a section dedicated to carny lingo. Perry drops this discourse on slang into the narrative in one big chunk and then goes back to the story. The information contributes nothing to the plot and slows down the pace even more.
In an online interview, Perry states that her book contract was for just three novels, so the future of this series is uncertain. Click HERE to read that interview on The Big Thrill blog. Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Skeleton Haunts a House.
The skeleton's name is Sid, and he has lived in the Thackery family's attic for 30 years after following Georgia Thackery home from a carnival in which he had been serving as part of a haunted-house exhibit. Sid's first memory is seeing six-year-old Georgia in danger at the carnival and stepping in to save her. Before that moment, he remembers nothing, not even his name. (Georgia named him Sid.) Outside the immediate family, no one knows of Sid's existence.
When Georgia accompanies Madison to an anime-con, Sid convinces Georgia to let him dress up as the skeletal Shinigami from Soul Eater and come along on the outing. At the con, Sid recognizes a woman he knew back when he was alive. He doesn't know the who-what-when-where-why; he just knows that he has seen her before and that the sight of her engenders in him feelings of both guilt and fear. The primary plot follows Georgia and Sid as they use personal, professional, and Internet connections to figure out the identity of the woman and her relationship to Sid. When the woman is murdered early in the story, their urgency to solve the mystery increases.
The mystery plot moves along steadily, but slowly, as the author spends some time settling Georgia into her new group of fellow adjuncts. That group includes an old friend, an old flame, a new flame, and a mean girl, all of whom have supporting parts in the solution to the mystery. The descriptions of an adjunct's pitiful existence are fascinating. Although I knew that being an adjunct isn't a bed of roses, I had no idea how depressing and debilitating life can be for these hard-working, long-suffering academic wannabes. Also fleshed out is the relationship between Georgia and Madison, which is much more friendly and loving than you'd expect, given that Madison has been yanked from one place to another all through her childhood due to her mother's ever-fluctuating job situations.
Perry is a good storyteller, and her characters are well developed and sympathetic. I'd have enjoyed the story more if there had been some sort of explanation for Sid's magical abilities to talk (without vocal cords), see (without eyes), hear (without ears), and disassemble/reassemble at will. Perhaps a curse. Or an errant genetic trait. Anything would do. Without that explanation, my disbelief kept refusing to stay suspended.
Click HERE to read an excerpt from A Skeleton in the Family. The second novel will feature another murder mystery, this one involving a high school production of Hamlet, with Sid playing—of course—Yorick.
|A Norman Rockwell|