Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Three mostly enjoyable Halloween stories
Cons: I do have some niggles with some stories
The Bottom Line:
Three haunted stories
For your cozy Halloween
Worth it if a fan
Cozy Halloween Hauntings
Kensington has released several Christmas novella collections over the years (with a new one coming next month), and I’ve read several of them. However, Haunted House Murder represents the first novella anthology I am aware of they have released that focuses on Halloween. The contributors, Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and Barbara Ross, are a natural grouping since they all write series set in Maine. And they have previously written a couple of those successful Christmas novella collections together.
The book opens with “Haunted House Murder” by Leslie Meier. The story features Lucy Stone, the protagonist of her popular and long running mystery series. Halloween is coming, but everyone in Tinker’s Cove is talking about the old, abandoned house in town. While it looks run down from the outside, someone has bought it and moved in during the middle of the night. However, they aren’t very friendly, rebuffing Lucy’s and other’s attempts to welcome them to town. Then the rumors start flying and strange events start happening. What is really going on in this house?
I know that the Lucy Stone series is extremely popular, but I struggle to get through the stories I have read. Part of it is Lucy’s family. I haven’t spent enough time with them to look past their faults and love them, I guess. And, let’s face it, that is often what we have to do with people in real life. In this case, I found the story to be better suited to a short story than even a novella. It’s not bad, but it felt drawn out and a little forced.
Lee Hollis takes the middle story once again. “Death by Haunted House” moves the action to Bar Harbor and flashes back ten years to 2009 and a time when series protagonist Hayley Powell was still married. A new family has moved to town and moved in next door to Hayley and her young family into a long-abandoned house that is rumored to be haunted. When they move in, they are unfriendly and obviously keeping secrets, and Hayley’s husband, Danny, is certain that they are hiding something. When a dead body turns up in the woods behind their neighborhood, Danny is certain they are involved. Is he right?
Yes, these first two stories have similar set ups, but the execution is very different. I found the story here very entertaining, although I did guess a couple plot points early. Still, the solution to the mystery was a surprise, and I had to laugh at some of the events along the way. On the other hand, I found Danny extremely selfish and annoying, and Hayley does something extremely stupid, with is ironic since she complains about Danny’s behavior at times.
Finally, we come to my reason for reading the book. “Hallowed Out” by Barbara Ross takes us to Busman’s Harbor at the start of the off season. Julia Snowden has gotten roped into an effort to bring some tourists to town during October via a haunted homes tour. One of the stops is Gus’s restaurant where a rumrunner was killed by gangsters during Prohibition. An actor has been brought in to help with the reenactment, but the night of the first tour, he is shot when the lights go out. Who did it?
The Maine Clambake Mysteries are one of my favorite series, and it is always wonderful to revisit the characters, no matter how briefly it might be. The plot is strong, and the characters we meet along the way are just as strong. I didn’t see the twists of the mystery coming, and the ending caught me by surprise. There is a delightful sub-plot as well that kept me grinning. As I mentioned, this was the reason I picked up the anthology, and it made me glad I did.
Since Lee Hollis and Barbara Ross both write culinary cozies, their fans are used to getting recipes, and this collection is no different. You’ll find several delicious autumn inspired recipes to enjoy when you’ve finished the story.
Something all three stories do well is give us plenty of atmosphere. You can feel the crispness in the air and the excitement of costumes and kids and candy. Considering it is still August, and I live in Southern California where we often don’t get autumn weather until November, that’s saying something.
Those looking for something truly spooky will be disappointed. These are all cozy authors, so, while there are rumors of hauntings, we never see anything truly frightening here.
If you are a fan of one of these writers, you’ll be glad you picked up Haunted House Murder. And who knows, you might find a new author you’ll enjoy.
Be sure to check out the rest of the Maine Clambake Mysteries.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.