I'd Like to Own a Haunted Bookshop: A Review of The Ghost and the Haunted Portrait By Cleo Coyle
Once upon a midnight dreary, I sat down and read murder mysteries all March long.
Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.
Are you enjoying Murder Mystery March so far? I am. I’m having tons of fun. And I got a good review for you today. Please welcome to the stage The Ghost and the Haunted Portrait by Cleo Coyle.
The Ghost and the Haunted Portrait is actually the first cozy mystery I’ve reviewed on the blog. It gets a special medal for having that distinction. So if you couldn't tell, when it comes to my mystery preferences, I tend to prefer thrillers. I think it’s because I haven’t found a good cozy mystery series that I’m in to. May have found it with this series though. Let’s get to the review then.
As always a spoiler alert is in order. You’ve been warned.
The Ghost and the Haunted Portrait is the seventh book in the Haunted Bookshop Mystery series. This series follows Penelope “Pen” McClure, the owner of a bookshop in Rhode Island that's haunted. The resident spook is a 1940’s private investigator named Jack Shepard who died on the property during an investigation gone wrong. This pair have had their ups and downs, but by the seventh entry in the series, are working together just fine.
Penelope’s shop has revitalized the small town of Quindicott, Rhode Island. And the bookshop is so popular it's actually hosting a launch party for a new book quite soon. For this event, Penelope is borrowing a bunch of pulp fiction covers since the launch party is for a book all about illustrated book and pulp fiction covers. She's borrowing these prints from a collector named Walt, and while picking these prints up, one of her friends, Seymour, discovers a portrait by a local artist. This artist is pretty infamous. As local legend has it, this artist, Harriet McClure, was a rich recluse who went "mad" and painted her life away in her Victorian mansion. Seymour ends up buying the portrait, but afterwards, horrible accidents begin befalling those around it.
For example, Walt dies the night he sells it.
The police think it’s an accident or maybe even death from old age, but Penelope doesn’t see it that way. She’s convinced he’s been murdered. Thankfully she has a ghost detective who’s willing to help her. What follows is a murder investigation, talk of curses and hidden jewels, dreams of the 1940’s, and a murder investigation from back then that ties into the present day.
So long review short, this was a decent read. It holds up to most cozy mysteries on the market. It has some spooky spice to it with the ghost P.I., and we all know how much I like my spooky stuff. But as I’m writing this, it has been a few days since I finished The Ghost and the Haunted Portrait and I don’t remember any of the fine details. There’s no part of this cozy that stands out in my memory. There is no pièce de resistance. I feel as if I could read this book again and be surprised by what happens, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I genuinely don’t remember what happens.
I will give it this. I jumped into a series that now has eight entries, and my starting point was the seventh book. Despite that, I fully understood the world, the relationships between the characters, and the ghost rules. That last one is a very important thing in books that deal with the supernatural.
Jack can’t wander around the world, he’s connected to a single object for all of his afterlife, he can only leave the bookshop if Penelope takes said item with her. Good to know. He’s also able share his memories with Penelope in a sort of dream state. She’s able to interact with the world around her when she’s in these memory dreams. I don’t know exactly how Jack manages to do this, but I understand what is happening when this occurs. It’s not shocking or throws you through a loop. I never had to question what was happening or why the characters were suddenly in the 1940's.
The only ghost rule that I do not have an explanation for is how Jack and Penelope speak. I think she needs the object he’s attached to on her body in order to speak with him, but even then I have questions. How is she able to speak with Jack? Does she have special powers? Did she have a near death experience that I’m unaware of and that’s how she’s able to speak with the dead? And why can she only speak with Jack? This is the only question I have regarding the ghost rules, and there’s likely an answer in the first book, but I chose to start with book seven instead.
If you read this book strictly for the vibes, then it’s great. The vibes are great! Listen, I’m too old to be the heroine in a dystopian novel, but I feel old enough to be the protagonist in a cozy mystery series that features spooky stuff. Basically what I’m trying to say is I enjoyed this book’s world, and it was good escapism for a few nights.
As I said, the mystery is some pretty standard fare. You could use this book to teach students about cozy mystery structure. At the end of the day, a reader’s enjoyment of this book has all to do with his, her or their preferences. My enjoyment of this mystery stems from my enjoyment of the supernatural. There are a lot of people out there who don’t enjoy that kind of stuff, so many will easily avoid this one.
And on that note, I will bid you all adieu. I shall see you next week with another review, and we’ll continue on our journey into Murder Mystery March.
Until then stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.