Haunted Bookshop Mystery #4: The Ghost and the Femme Fatale
(Alice Kimberly)
"...That booming, masculine voice in my head was either the ghost of P. I. Jack Shepard or a delusion of my half-demented mind. Which was true? Take your pick."

Such are the words of Penelope—single mom, bookstore owner, and star of my nationally best-selling paranormal series The Haunted Bookshop Mysteries. The Ghost and the Femme Fatale is the latest release with more titles on the way in 2009 and 2010.

There were A LOT of ideas and influences behind the opening of my haunted bookshop, starting with the classic "What if" game. "What would happen," I asked myself, "if a street-hardened detective like Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe found himself forced to coexist with a younger version of Agatha Christie's feisty amateur sleuth Miss Marple? And what if that hard-boiled private eye was (you guessed it) a ghost?"

At the start of my series, young widow Penelope McClure moves herself and her seven-year-old son back to her little Rhode Island hometown. Using her late husband's insurance money, Pen breathes new life back into her elderly aunt Sadie's nearly dead bookshop. As she remodels the store's interior, however, Pen brings something else back to life, as well: the spirit of Jack Shepard, a private investigator from New York City who was gunned down on the premises in the 1940s.

City-hardened Jack is less than thrilled to find his spirit marooned in some kind of backwater purgatory. Spending eternity in a bookstore in the godforsaken sticks was not the sort of afterlife he'd imagined. When he encounters auburn-haired Penelope, however, he's a little less cranky (Jack always was a sucker for a redhead). Then Pen gets mixed up in murder, and she realizes that the ghost of a professional P. I. is a pretty handy haunter—even if his off-color wisecracks and arrogant attitude are a real pain in the neck.

As fans of this series can tell you, a major inspiration for me in developing these paranormal mysteries was the novel The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. (As a tribute to Mrs. Muir's late author, Josephine Leslie, who wrote under the pen name R. A. Dick, I always quote a line from her novel at the beginning of my own books.)

Published in Britain in 1945, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir became a bestseller, and it's not hard to see why. This was right after World War II, when far too many women in their prime had become instant widows. Any new widow, still haunted by the memory of her young, vital husband, would have found a great deal of comfort in Josephine Leslie's novel, which tells the story of a young widow who finds companionship with the ghost of a virile sea captain. The tale is chockfull of metaphor and meaning, too—the ghost represents everything from hidden female desires and longings to the latent power of a woman's creativity. (Captain Gregg effectively becomes Mrs. Muir's muse, dictating his adventures as she writes them into a book.)

In my own stories, there are metaphors at work, as well. Sure, my bookshop is inhabited by a real ghost, but it's also haunted by something else: the power of one woman's imagination. Is Jack a real ghost? Or is he a very helpful part of Penelope's own repressed spirit? For me, Jack Shepard is very real indeed. Like Mrs. Muir's salty Captain Gregg, Jack even has his own personal journey: The big city private eye realizes that his purgatory of an afterlife isn't so terrible after all, because he's found a worthy woman to protect and cherish.

Yes, this is a love story as much as a story of haunting and mystery. And even though it features a dead man, it's very much a story about how to live because this is a love story for me, too—the love of a sixty-year-old book and movie (a love that I will continue to have until the day I die). And that's really the very best idea behind my Haunted Bookshop series: When you find a book to love, or a fantastic fictional character that inhabits its pages, you may end up being haunted (happily) for the rest of your days.

To learn more about my Haunted Bookshop Mysteries or the Coffeehouse Mysteries that I write under the pen name Cleo Coyle, visit the Haunted Bookshop page on my virtual coffeehouse website at: http://www.coffeehousemystery.com/ I also have a message board, a newsletter, and a monthly giveaway of free coffee to my newsletter subscribers. Cheers!
Alice Kimberly