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Book Author: Linda Barnes

THE PERFECT GHOST by Linda Barnes: Book Review

Some authors can write a great mystery series but can’t write a good stand-alone.  Conversely, some authors write terrific stand-alones but can’t sustain a character or characters for multiple books.  Happily, Linda Barnes writes a wonderful series (Carlotta Carlisle) and has just shown that she can write an outstanding stand-alone, The Perfect Ghost.

Em Moore is a graduate student in English and was supposed to co-author, as a ghost writer, an authorized autobiography of Garrett Malcolm, an actor and Oscar-winning director.  But her plan seems to have fallen apart upon the death of her colleague, professor, and lover Teddy Blake, who was killed in a one-car accident on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, right in the middle of conducting multiple interviews for the book. 

Now it’s up to Em, quiet, self-conscious, and insecure to the point of being phobic, to convince their publisher that she’s able to finish the interviews, write the book on her own, and do the necessary publicity afterward to ensure that it becomes a best-seller.  She’s told that if Garrett agrees, she can continue the research and write the book as the sole ghostwriter.

Em heads down from Boston to Cape Cod to interview the handsome, charming, and charismatic Garrett.  Surprising herself yet again, she manages to convince Garrett to continue with the book, albeit with the provisos that he can withdraw his permission at any time and that he has total control over the book’s content.

It doesn’t take too long before Em is swept up by Garrett and, astonishingly, he appears to be equally captivated by her.  She moves into his mansion on the Cape, ostensibly to learn more about him but in actuality to make it easier to continue their whirlwind sexual relationship.

Although Garrett has a well-deserved reputation as a womanizer, he did have a loving relationship with his late wife, the actress Claire Gregory.  Garrett is the third generation of theatrical Malcolms and Claire was a brilliant actress, so it’s not surprising that their only child, Jenna, is an actress.  Em would love to interview Jenna for the book, but she’s out of the country, as she has been for years, touring in England and Australia.

So for now, Em has to make due with Garrett; his cousin James Foley, a former actor currently selling real estate; and Brooklyn Pierce, the sexy actor who starred in three of Garrett’s early films but now is an alcoholic hoping for a comeback.

The Perfect Ghost is told in the first person by Em, through taped interviews Teddy conducted that are now in Em’s possession, and in the official reports written by the detective investigating Teddy’s accident.

Through Em’s narration we can see the changes she undergoes as she becomes more sure of herself and her abilities, and we learn more about her relationship with Teddy.  “Listening” to Teddy’s  tapes with Garrett and various people in his life, we understand more about the actor and his background.  And reading the letters of Detective Russell Snow to his chief of police we are able to follow his investigation into Teddy’s death.

Linda Barnes has once again written an excellent book, with characters who are believable and a plot that, I promise, will keep you in suspense until the very last page. 

You can read more about Linda Barnes at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.

LIE DOWN WITH THE DEVIL by Linda Barnes: Book Review

Linda Barnes‘s latest mystery novel takes her heroine, P.I./taxi driver Carlotta Carlyle, to a fork in the road.  It’s not the first time Carlotta has had to make a choice concerning her on-again, off-again lover Sam Gianelli.  But in Lie Down With The Devil the decision seems permanent.

Carlotta walks the path of other female private investigators, although she varies that career path with working as a cab driver down the sometimes mean streets of The Hub, as Bostonians like to refer to their city.  As in Hub of the Universe. She’s in the mold of Kinsey Milhone, V . I. Warshawski, and Sharon McCone. She’s tough, strong, and determined.   But she’s got two soft spots–one for her “foster daughter” Paolina, whose father was a Colombian drug lord, and the aforementioned Sam of the Boston mafia.  Nice company she keeps, doesn’t she?

Now Carlotta is facing two dilemmas.  Sam has left the country without explanation and without telling Carlotta where he is.  The problem is that the police and F.B.I. don’t believe Carlotta, and they’re determined to get Sam’s whereabouts from her.  And Paolina, recovering from being kidnapped and the brutal death of her father, won’t speak to Carlotta.

A new client enters.   She spins a story about being suspicious of her fiance, with only weeks left to the big wedding, and she wants Carlotta to follow him for just one night while she’s away.  If he’s faithful that night, she’ll marry him; if not, she’ll call the wedding off.  It seems kind of bizarre to Carlotta, but she needs the money and the distraction from her own problems, so she takes the case.  Then two Boston detectives come to have Carlotta identity a dead body, and it’s her client.  The name she gave Carlotta was false, the “fiance” can’t be found, and the cops think that Carlotta is responsible for the client’s hit-and-run death.

I like Linda Barnes’s mysteries, but they don’t grab me the way that Sue Grafton’s or Sara Paretsky’s  or Marcia McCone’s do.  I think that’s because Carlotta seems to have been delivered fully formed and hasn’t changed much over the books.  Perhaps that’s because Carlotta doesn’t have an estranged family like Kinsey’s.   And while V. I. doesn’t have a family, she does have her physician friend Lotte and her landlord Mr. Contreras.  And Sharon McCone has her husband Hy in addition to numerous sisters and brothers.  These characters give the heroines a more balanced life.   Paolina fills that void in some of the novels, but she’s only a child, and Carlotta needs adults in her life.  That void makes her a bit less real to me.

That being said, I do enjoy this series.  If she doesn’t have the same impact on me as the three private eyes I’ve mentioned above, that’s a matter of personal taste.  Perhaps you feel differently.  Why not let me know?

You can also learn more at Linda Barnes’ web site.