A teenage girl is found dead in the local lake. There’s no sign of foul play, but Daniel Byers has a hair-raising experience that causes him to think there’s murder afoot.
When Daniel attends Emily Jackson’s funeral, the last thing he expects to see is her ghost pleading with him to solve her murder. After this supernatural opening, Daniel embarks on a clunky whodunit that scarcely raises the pulse. The key to a good mystery is pacing and stakes, but instead, James provides uninspired melodrama and red herrings to spare. It is never clear why Daniel needs to solve this case, and the hocus-pocus that prods him along comes off as hokey rather than eerie. As sleuths, Daniel and his friend Kyle make for a dull pair. Inane girl troubles and run-of-the-mill family issues are poorly integrated, feeling like padding that distracts from the maniac on the loose. The book’s lone highlight is the ending, when all is revealed in an absurd confrontation that cribs from the best pulp noirs of the 1930s and ’40s. This ending jars with the rest of the book, but the camp on display supplies a much-needed shot in the arm.
Overlong and underthought, it’s a mystery best left unsolved. (Mystery. 12-16)