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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review - Ghost Ship: A Port Chatham Mystery

This week we make a trip to Port Chatham Washington for a murder in the current and in 1893 that are somehow connected.

Author: P. J. Alderman

Copyright: February 2011 (Bantam) 368 pgs

Series: 2nd in Port Chatham Mysteries

Sensuality: historical brothel and mention of occurrences, sprinkled cursing

Mystery Sub-genre: Paranormal cozy

Main Character: Jordan Marsh, a psychologist recently relocated from Los Angeles who sees ghosts everywhere.

Setting: both 1893 and Modern day Port Chatham, Washington

Obtained Through: Library Find

Jordan is on a strenuous walk (read forced march) on the Dungeness Spit with police chief Darcy Moran. Not only does she find Holt Stillwell, the town Don Juan, dead but she finds that her abilities to see ghosts now extends to seeing the "spirits" of downed ships. Interestingly Jordan sees the ghost ship of the Henrietta Dale that ran aground very close to that area and Holt Stillwell was descended from the ship's notorious owner Michael Seavey. The scuttlebutt over the ages claims that a false light imitating the lighthouse purposely led the luxury ship to its death.

By the time Jordan makes it home she finds Michael Seavey's spirit in her house trying to court Hattie, one of her resident ghosts. Hattie must decided between two suitors, both dead. Hattie insists that Jordan find out the circumstances to Michael's death to make up for having said bad things about his character. Jordan is very reluctant to investigate, but having shanghaier Seavey's ghost around makes her uneasy, no matter how suave he is. Thus she starts looking into old records to unravel who led the ship to its watery grave and who murdered Seavey even after he survived the wreck. She becomes convinced that Holt Stillwell's death was connected with the sunken ship and begins unearthing the details of Seavey's last months alive. But her investigation is angering the living and she gets threats and even a break in.

Jordan was an okay character for me. I am rather neutral about her, she wasn't great and yet she wasn't terrible either. I thought it was interesting that Jordan has a hard time walking or driving because she doesn't want to hit the spirits she sees - of course townspeople are known to dress in period clothing which doesn't help her distinguish the living from the dead. For a psychologist she did not come across as having much polish that I would have expected from such a serious and educated professional. I will concede that she had moved recently so she was out of her element, she was recovering from the last story in which her ex-husband was murdered and she is doubting her abilities as a psychologist. I get all that was happening for her, but she still came across a touch immature like a college kid caught breaking dorm rules and explaining herself.

The romantic interest in the story is Jase, a former high profile celebrity who lives next door and owns the local watering hole. The story makes it clear that they are not even dating yet, just mutual interest that Jase is willing to take to the next level. I was starting to warm up to Jase's character, until he starts demanding Jordan not get involved because it could be dangerous. If you have followed this blog much you know I can't stand the main character getting harassed over sleuthing when that is the entire point to the whole story.

With the first pet peeve down let me get the second one out of my system. I grew tired of "when are you just going to sleep with him and get it over with" attitude that occurred several times in the story. Speaking for myself, that isn't "romantic", that is just hormones on a page. This would be one of those instances where, as a psychologist I would have expected more maturity from Jordan and the others. I felt there were several missed opportunities for romantic moments that could have occurred between Jordan and Jase that just didn't. It is as if there is no spark because it is so expected they will hook up so why bother with any of the heart pounding stolen moments or romance.

I did like how some of the story was told from Michael Seavey's perspective in 1893. It brought the mystery of who among many people would have wanted the charming Opium smuggler dead. I found I liked those scenes because I was looking for clues to add to what Jordan was finding.

The plot itself mixed the past and present for two murders to solve that had a connection in the present. I enjoyed guessing who I thought did it and why in both instances, and I was mostly correct. This is an entertaining lite read with a clever concept of mixing past and present, and where the ghosts are mostly the comic relief. The combination is a pleasant beach read that cozy fans should enjoy.

Here is a short video of the Dungeness spit where the mystery starts.  It is an excellent location to imagine ghost ships and a body washing up.

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