In Yarbro’s (Sustenance: A Saint-Germain Novel, 2014, etc.)
mystery/thriller, a journalist in 1924 investigates a possible murder with help
from the ghost who’s haunting her.
With the death of accountant Madison Moncrief, Philadelphia Clarion reporter Poppy Thornton may have found her way from the society page to the front page. Sure, it looks like Madison hanged himself, but Poppy knows it was murder because Chesterton Holte, the ghost of a man who died eight years ago, told her. Poppy’s investigation leads to her connecting two additional murders: the alleged suicide of James Poindexter, who worked at the same firm as Moncrief, and the irrefutable homicide of antiques dealer Percy Knott. But when Poppy gets too close to the truth, she may need more than just a helping hand from Holte. There’s not much mystery in Yarbro’s novel; Poppy uncovers some shadiness among potential suspects but doesn’t make much headway, and Holte learns little from the ghosts of the murder vics, who can’t even remember their killer(s). Yarbro, however, delivers two intriguing lead characters. Holte, for one, has chosen to haunt Poppy because he blames himself for her father’s murder, which happened mere hours before Holte’s own during the Great War (about which the narrative doesn’t offer too many details). Holte is largely a traditional ghost—“semi-visible” in front of Poppy and prone to flickering lights—who often inadvertently scares the journalist with his sudden appearances. Poppy, for her part, is delightfully curious (befitting her profession of choice) yet hilariously oblivious to Inspector Loring’s blatant flirting, even if Holte is quick to point it out. Nevertheless, Yarbro’s greatest triumph is the old-school prose. Her novel reads as if it were genuinely authored in the 1920s: “ ’phone” is repeatedly written as such, as it would be if the shorthand were still around, and Poppy’s go-to exclamation is “Ye gods!” The final act is decidedly more intense—Poppy may become someone’s target—but the ending unfortunately lacks resolution, so readers hoping for a nice wrap-up to the mystery will likely be disappointed.
Engaging characters, one already dead, highlight this loving tribute to the classic detective story.