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... I couldn't get into the whole thing about how I was working for a ghost who might (or might not) have written a famous book and how the fact that I was investigating the possibility that she might (or might not) have written the book might (or might not) have something to do with someone...
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In a nutshell
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Pepper Martin's boss at Garden View Cemetery has just gotten some exciting news; you see Ella is the president of the fan club for the multi million selling book So Far The Dawn, which was turned into a highly successful film [think bigger then the Harry Potter and Twilight series combined] and the book's reclusive author Merilee Bowman is returning to Cleveland for the premiere of the new digital version of the movie, as well as overseeing the completion of the So Far The Dawn museum [it'll be connected to the author's old family home].
But there is some bad news too; Merilee's summer long stay in Cleveland means that paparazzi and fans follow her and the wave of publicity and crowds of people means that there won't be any tours of the cemetery for the summer. No tours means there is no need for a tour guide, so Pepper is now temporarily out of a job.
That's problem one; problem two is that Pepper has encountered another ghost. Didi Bowman is Merilee's long dead younger sister and she is claiming that it was actually her that wrote So Far The Dawn and now she has to watch her granddaughter live just above the breadline with few friends, while Merilee is living in luxury with her ill-gotten royalties.
Desperate for both money and peace, Pepper finds herself agreeing to be a live in assistant to Merilee for the summer. But will she help Didi - and indirectly her granddaughter - by involving herself in the world of fraud and proving that Merilee is a fraud and what about Merilee's manic fans?
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The thing that I thought about before I'd begun to read THE CHICK AND THE DEAD was how the author was going to expand Pepper's ability to see any more ghosts. In the first book she only saw the ghost of Gus Scarpetti - the man whose headstone that she banged her head on and that's it. There was no suggestion that she is able to see other ghosts and as Gus has now gone how was the author going to progress things?
In this book she does see multiple ghosts and it's implied that she isn't being bombarded by ghosts asking for her help because she has just come into her 'gift', so they simply don't know that she can communicate with them. That does makes sense, but now I'd like more information on her 'gift' since we now know that it wasn't a one off freak accident - but I suppose that isn't yet any way for her to learn about it and for the author to work information naturally into the storyline. But it's something I'd like to have the author somehow expand on soon.
I found ex-society-princess-turned-jailbird's-daughter Pepper more likable as she seems more alert to her surroundings and the people in them this time around, which is good as it shows that she is learning and retaining skills from her previous adventure.Yes; we do still repeatedly about Pepper's ample chest, but as she demonstrates a bit more brain power this time, as opposed to flashing cleavage non-stop to get answers from people I can [just about] put up with it. She does think about her incarcerated Dad a few times, but this is to show where her trust and self-belief issues originate and it doesn't come across as a pity party. One scene that sticks with me is seemingly innocent and seemingly meaningless at first glance; Pepper is in her apartment with nothing to do and as she thinks of things she dismisses them as her friends have dumped her, so she has no-one to do them with.
Once again Pepper refuses to get involved with our central spook and her problems, as she knows that resolving Gus's murder involved a huge helping of luck and - oh yeah - she was almost killed. Unfortunately for Pepper Didi Bowman knows hows to lay on the guilt in order to push Pepper into a corner and get her to help her [as did Gus in the first book].
I'd previously thought that the guilt tripping was simply Gus and his mafioso don attitude, but now I think that it must be the ghosts general desperation after finally finding someone who actually is able to help them after being stuck on earth for so many years after their deaths. I have the third book in the series [Tombs Of Endearment], so I'll soon see if that theory pans out.
I enjoyed the whole mystery plot-line a lot more this time round, mainly because Didi does accompany Pepper for various parts, so we're not just following one woman stumbling around and thinking over various points. True; I could see the who/why ahead of time, but I still had fun following the twists and turns along the way.
More added fun comes from the fact that we don't know who is telling the truth; Didi is soon exposed as a daydreamer, who is prone to making things up because "it's fun to pretend", but Merilee hasn't published another book, so has Merilee not published another book because she is simply a perfectionist, or is it just because she can't write after all?
The love interests are still mainly background dressing; For me doctor Dan is emerging as the more interesting of the two. He has less 'page time', but his Big Secret promises to answer some of the questions Pepper [and I] have and could progress the series as a whole. So yeah - team Dan.
I took an instant dislike to homicide detective Quinn and his alpha male behaviour in the first book and his attitude in this book hasn't inspired me to warm to him; he swings between an irrational barely suppressed anger towards Pepper and flirting with her. Oh and at one one point he tells Pepper that he knows her well enough to not believe her over something [double checks that THE CHICK AND THE DEAAD is indeed the second book in the series], but as she points out he doesn't really know her at all.
Sadly [for me at least] so far Pepper seems to be more attracted to Quinn then she is to Dan, so he is emerging as the primary love interest. Sigh. It's early days so hopefully that can [and will] change. I'm sure some people will find Quinn protective and romantic, but I don't fall into that camp.
THE CHICK AND THE DEAD still isn't a perfect entry to the Pepper Martin series, but it did pull me into the story more and the author has rounded out the character of Pepper out fully, as well as introducing her boss Ella deeper into things - in the first book I kept reading her name, then forgetting who she actually was. Hopefully the author will now flesh out Dan a bit more - I don't want the series to focus too much on romance, but the love interests are just cardboard cutouts at this point.
THE CHICK AND THE DEAD does contain a few reference to characters from the first book, but it is able to be read as a stand alone book.
** Don Of The Dead is the first book in the Pepper Martin Mysteries series **