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February 26, 2024

Dead by 25: Ghost of a Chance

By Alexandra Queen

Ghost of a Chance, by Yasmine Galenorn. A Chintz 'n China mystery. Berkeley Prime Crime (a division of Penguin Books), 2003.

To paraphrase the book jacket:

Emerald O'Brien is a mother of two and owner of the Chintz 'n China Tea Room, where guests are served the perfect blend of tea and tarot readings. She never set out to be a detective, but when the ghost of a murdered woman seeks her out and asks for help, Emerald finds herself sleuthing out a mystery.

Sounds good. And I really wanted to give this book a chance. But it's written in first person.

That's not a bad thing, provided you understand first person does not give you license for a series of long, stream-of-consciousness flatulence. By page two I was bored, but I wanted to see how Galenorn addressed the premise. On page three the ghost showed up for one of the most boring visitations ever. On page twenty-five, Galenorn has introduced most of the major characters, including the murdered dead woman, the ex-fashion model best friend, and the too-good-to-be-true love interest and I am still bored.

Do we really need to know that everyone around the dinner table ate bread with their soup, but that Emerald O'Brien liked her bread crunchy and wouldn't even crumble crackers in her soup? Does that really define the character for us in a way that her blase, "oh, whatever" reaction to the haunting didn't? We hear about every step of O'Brien's life. What she wears to bed. What she puts on her skin after she gets out of the shower. How she used to dye her hair but doesn't anymore. How she cleans her shop. How she mothers her children. What individual papers she has to sign for them. We do not hear which hairs she tweazed from her nostrils and bikini area, and by this I deduce that she had none. Because if Emerald O'Brien does it, we see it. I'm hoping her bowel movements are few and far between.

I'm wrestling with skipping ahead to "the good parts" and pitching the book. I'm a busy woman, after all, and if the first supernatural occurence bored me, I've no reason to be optimistic about the others. But this is the first book in the series. And it could be that Galenorn was just making the mistake of dragging the reader along as she got to know her main character. Intensive detail is part of the genre -- the reader is supposed to be able to escape into the exciting life of a tea shop owner, replete with luxurious "chick" details that make us sigh in delighted envy. But knowing what details to emphasize is the difference between a portrait and a mug shot. And it's the difference between a best seller and a can't-give-it-away paperback destined for the recycle bin.

If you read fast and aren't busy, send me the cliff notes. Or if you're a student of writing and want to see how not to do it, check out this book to note:

  • One: Gritty, film noir kind of tone does not combine well with typical-romance-novel-heroine lifestyle. ("Yeah. A ghost. Whatever." "Yeah, I put potpourri in my house. I like the smell. Whatever.")
  • Two: Romance-novel escapist detail does not exempt you from pacing.
  • Three: First person narrative does not exempt you from story telling -- or specifically, the burden of selecting what parts of the tale the readers are treated to and what can go without mention.

There's a "ghost of a chance" the rest of the book (and the series) improve, but I can't scrape up the time or the desire to find out.

Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-10-31
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