"Merry, Merry Ghost" by Carolyn Hart
William Morrow, 282 pp., $15.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Ghosts and Christmas go together like eggnog and brandy (actually, Wild Turkey liqueur-- that's the LIQUEUR-- is best for smartening up your nog), so Carolyn Hart's second Bailey Ruth Raeburn mystery presents a winning combination of the Yuletide Spirit with the meddlesome spirit of the late Mrs. Raeburn.
As the novel opens, it's less than two weeks till Christmas, when the Department of Good Intentions sends Bailey Ruth on an "adven-mission" onboard the Rescue Express, en route to her hometown of Adelaide, Oklahoma, where a foundling is about to be-- well, found-- on the doorstep of one of the wealthiest households in town.
Dickens would give us 600 or so pages (of albeit delightful prose) until we would discover the boy's true identity. Hart, however, lets us know right away that he's the only direct heir of ailing millionairess Susan Flynn, who has known much tragedy since her teenage daughter was killed in a car wreck with Susan's only other child-- the boy's father, as it turns out-- at the wheel.
Guilt-ridden and in despair, Mitch Flynn disappeared shortly after his sister's death. Over the ensuing years, Susan's home has been run (and overrun) with her husband's grasping relations, all of whom stand to inherit big-time, until Keith Flynn is dropped on the doorstep by one of his late mother's friends.
Wiggins, Bailey Ruth's instructor and master of the station for the Rescue Express, at first charges her with protecting Keith, although matters take a considerable and not unforeseeable turn for the worse when Susan summons her attorney in order to draw up a new will. Suddenly, Susan's house full of hands-out relations stands to lose more millions than one of Bernie Madoff's clients.
Hart assembles a ribboned basket brimming with literary chestnuts and roasts them merrily over her Yule log. Humor and good cheer abound, while the plot remains lively, as Bailey Ruth pushes the envelope on the restrictions of her Heavenly Precepts for dabbling in earthly affairs, frequently arousing the ire of Wiggins. Thank Heaven he's tied up with his own prickly Christmas cactus of a case, way down under in Tumbulgum, Australia.
If "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol" are your cup of holiday tea (or that of someone you know), then "Merry, Merry Ghost" would make a very, very nice present.
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