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Friday, June 9, 2017


Author:  Lucy Banks  
Plot Type:  Ghostbusters with a British Accent
Ratings:  Violence2; Sensuality0; Humor—1   
Publisher and Titles:  Amberjack Publishing
          1  The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost (5/2017)
          2  The Case of the Scottish Fetch (2018)

     The series is set in Exeter, where Dr. Julio Ribero runs his Agency of the Supernatural. In this world, certain people (including the government) know that supernatural spirits actually exist and must be dealt with on a daily basis. Dr. Ribero's Agency is in direct competition with several others and, as the series begins, is not doing very well financially. 

Dr. Ribero's Moustache
    Dr. Ribero is an aging Argentine Lothario with a Salvador Dali moustache, twinkling dark eyes, and a wealth of wavy gray hair. He constantly smokes cigarettes (held in a fancy holder), which he lights with his fancy silver lighter. Along with Miss Jenifer Wellbeloved, Ribero has run the Agency for thirty years.  Although Ribero claims to have the ability to see things in the supernatural world that others cannot, I was never sure exactly what his role was (in the first book) when the Agency crew went out on jobs. The others had specific duties, but the doctor just hovered on the scene giving orders.

    Miss Wellbeloved serves as second in command and is the Agency's conversant. She inherited the ability to communicate with spirits and is frequently able to calm down the troublesome ones. She insists that everyone treat the spirits gently and politely, even if they're trying to kill the Agency crew. Ribero and Wellbeloved have a special relationship that is explained in the first novel. 

     Unbelievably, Banks has Ribero take a siesta every afternoona Hispanic stereotype that I thought had been banished from serious novels decades ago. Adding to the doctor's stereotypical personality, Banks has him constantly misstate English words and expressions. For example, in the first book, he  says things like "Nothing ventured, nothing to be gathered up" (instead of "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."). Another time he says "bloating" instead of "gloating." This habitual misspeaking goes on and on. Banks probably meant it to be funny, but it's not, and it gets old very quickly. 

     In addition to Dr. Ribero and Miss Wellbeloved, the Agency has three employees:
> Pamela Tompkin: She is a plump, friendly woman who is the Agency's psychicShe "visits haunted locations, and tells us whether a spirit is present or not, and what state of mind it's in." Pamela has an optimistic view of life and works hard to keep the peace among her bickering colleagues. She owns a shaggy sheepdog named Hemingway who sheds hair all over her apartment.
> Serena Flynn: An attractive, but snarly, young woman with "weasel-sharp eyes," she specializes in spirit extinguishingcapturing spirits in empty water bottles, which are shelved in the Agency's storeroom until they can be delivered to Infinite Enterprises (the rich, snobby, rival agency that gets most of the supernatural jobs in England) for long-term storage in their spirit depot. Serena is ALWAYS sarcastic to the point that you just want to tell her to shut up and get a life. She never has a positive thing to say about anyone, and she truly despises the supernatural spirits she traps (because of a childhood tragedy that is mentioned in a single throwaway sentence near the end of book one). 
> Mike: He is the IT guy, or as he describes himself, "an integral part of this company." Mike is a hard-drinking young man who loves to spend time at the local pub. He is famous among his colleagues for accidentally blowing things up.
     One day, into the Agency walks 22-year-old Kester Lanner, a bookish nerdflaccid of body and timid of soul. "He was the very epitome of middle-aged academic, squeezed inexpertly into a younger man's body." In the first chapter of book one, when Kester learns that Ribero is his father, he is deeply shocked. But when his new dad tells him that the Agency hunts down and captures supernatural spirits, Kester wonders if he has stumbled into a world of crazy people. Although Kester is supposed to be the series hero (I guess), he is far from being hero material. In the face of any kind of fear, stress, or danger, he reacts in one or more of the following ways: trembling, crying, screaming, sobbing, moaning, vomiting, passing out, feeling sorry for himself, and openly admitting his innate cowardice. Kester has a horrible self-image and is happiest when he is in the library doing research. Obviously he doesn't belong with his newly found father's crew, but since he's the hero of the series, we know that he'll have to find a way to fit in. To that end, I'm sure you won't be too surprised to learn that Kester discovers that he had a supernatural talent of his own.

     Click HERE to read an on-line Q&A interview with Lucy Banks on the Amberjack Publishing web site.

                 NOVEL 1:  The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost                  
     Kester Lanner had no idea what he was getting into. Following his dying mother’s request to find the mysterious Dr. Ribero, his peaceful existence is shaken as he discovers the secrets she strove to keep. Before long, and against his will, Kester is thrown headlong into the family business: catching terrifying spirits.

     A logically-minded academic type, Kester is frightened by the sudden plunge into this bizarre new world, where the unseen lurks around every corner. Curiosity gets the better of him as he reads an old diary, which tells the chilling tale of the portrait of a beautiful green-dressed ladywho is also an ancient, malevolent spirit. She’s cunning, and perhaps more than Dr. Ribero’s Agency can handle. Kester soon becomes entangled in a struggle with a ghost so powerful, that his first real case with the family business might just be his last.

     The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost is a contemporary twist on the Victorian Gothic novel, with a dash of humor and large amounts of the outlandish, preposterous and the outright unbelievable.

    When RT Book Reviews wrote a rave review, gave this novel 4½ stars, and made it a Top Pick, I immediately put in my order, only to wonder (after reading the book) how in the world RT could have gone so gaga over this bland little book. Don't get me wrong, it's not horrible; it's just not anywhere near a 4½-star rating. This is the author's debut novel, so perhaps RT tried to be kind to a new author, but that doesn't do the reader any favors.

     This first book basically introduces the Agency and its staff and adds Kester to the scene. Banks tells the story in the third person voice from Kester's perspective, so there are many, many interior monologues filled with whining, and whimpering about how scared, unhappy, and worthless he feels.

     The Agency's primary case focuses on a haunted 19th century portrait of a beautiful lady dressed all in green. The crew has to get rid of the evil spirit inhabiting the portrait before the husband of the lady of the house arrives home from a trip. Although the ghost story section of the book (which includes old diary entries) is interesting, the Agency staffers approach the case so haphazardly that it's hard to believe they've been in business for three decades. Although early in the book, Wellbeloved stresses the importance of knowing what kind of spirit they're dealing with, they never bother to analyze the lady in green. They just pack up their equipment and take her ononly to be driven out of the house over and over again.

     Obviously, this is the author's way of giving Kesterthe academic nerda chance to prove himself to Dad and the team by uncovering some important facts about the history of the painting and its creator, details that this experienced team should have discovered before they ever began their attack on the spirit in the painting. Unfortunately, this rookie-level authorial manipulation just doesn't work because it makes the others look ignorant, while giving Kester the chance to step in and save the daysuch a stale, old trope. It also gives Kester a chance to show off his brand new supernatural talent (but he stays true to form by falling unconscious at the end of the requisite showdown scene).

     In a prelude to future books, Kester meets an attractive girl named Anya at the library. She flirts with him and invites him to join her book club, so perhaps there is romance ahead for our nerdy hero.

     There are a few improbable events scattered through the story, but it mostly hangs together well enough to maintain a basic level of suspense. The dialogue is awkwardly written, as is common in first novels, so I'll give that a pass this time around. At this point in the series, Kester is the only character with any depth. The others are paper-thin and under-developed. Each one has at least one dominant personality trait, but that's about it: Ribero is arrogant; Wellbeloved is cool and controlled; Pamela is optimistic and caring; Serena is insufferable; and Mike is both confident and incompetentat the same time, with the two traits basically canceling each other out. 

     As you can guess, I didn't care much for the novel, but if you're looking for a light-as-a-feather supernatural mystery that doesn't require any deep thought, you might enjoy it as a beach read.

    The second novel will introduce one of Dr. Ribero's chief rivals, Larry Higgins, in a case that featuring murder and grave-robbing.

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