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American/Cozy Mysteries

An Intimate Ghost, Ellen Hart, St. Martin's/Minotaur, $13.95.

An Intimate Ghost by Ellen Hart

There are many reasons to read mysteries - to be scared or thrilled, to be puzzled, to become emotionally engaged in the characters - but I think one of the best reasons to read a mystery is a desire for a good story, well told. On this count, Ellen Hart more than delivers, and her novel An Intimate Ghost is a pleasure from its mysterious beginning to its satisfying end. Never cloying or stupid, this is a well structured, well paced and genuinely mysterious story with many threads - none of which seem related, but in the capable hands of old pro Hart, are deftly tied together by the end of the book.

The novel begins with an opening scene of a young man taking his sister trick or treating - by the end of the episode, the little girl has been kidnapped, the boy in a car wreck. While this seems to have no bearing on the rest of the story that follows, it's so compelling a part of the book that I looked forward to all the bits that involved this backstory. The front story is about a catered wedding gone horribly wrong. Restaurant owner Jane Lawless knows something is up when she gets a panicked call from her staff at the wedding site. She rushes out there to find all the guests wandering around in a daze - with growing horror, she realizes they must have been drugged at the wedding reception by her food. Since no-one is seriously injured after the wedding, the police's attention is not totally gripped by the incident, but Jane, with the reputation of her restaurant and several lawsuits hanging over her head, refuses to give up on it and begins to investigate.

There's even a "humor" thread thrown in for relief - Jane's overwhelmingly theatrical friend Octavia is suddenly saddled with a 2 year old niece. Octavia knows nothing about children and is panic stricken when both her sister and the child's nanny disappear in short order. Octavia is also a good sounding board for Jane, who gets into several scrapes, only some of which are physically dangerous - some of them are emotionally dangerous. As the book drew to a close, the end of the story became clearer and clearer, and the book lived up to its beautiful Emily Dickinson epigraph. This is a lovely book.

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