What curious reader would not want to delve into a mystery novel with an intriguing title –How To Marry A Ghost– and a suggestion of bigamy that begins with the discovery of a dead man in a wedding dress washed upon the beach?

Set in New York’s East Coast Hamptons where secluded properties provide the perfect backdrop for clandestine encounters and mysterious lights in the woods, How To Marry A Ghost by Hope McIntyre contains all the ingredients for a good mystery: multiple murders, interesting connections and innuendoes, threats of danger, and enough dysfunctional relationships to make a Springer show. Yet something is missing.

What How To Marry A Ghost lacks is a smooth flow, well-developed characters that a reader can either adore or love to hate, and a plot where one can be enveloped and lost in the mystery, breathing on the neck of the investigator, vicariously gunning for the killer.

Holding great ideas and much potential, this mystery novel is unfortunately not that type of book, but perhaps it is not supposed to be. The central character, from whose point of view the story unfolds, is not the high-powered, aggressive detective common to the mystery genre, but ghost writer Lee Bartholomew. Lee is a worrier, an anxious, reserved loner who prefers a life safe on the outskirts of the limelight. Her instincts and intuition are overrun by an imagination that acts as a fertile playground for her budding neuroses while her questionably motivated decisions about love simply confuse and irritate as they strangely defy and real concepts of logic, lust, or longing.

Newly arrived from Britain to replace a fierce competitor, Lee has secured the most illustrious assignment of her career; penning the autobiography of her countryman, the aging yet infamous blues singer Shotgun Marriott. Her trip across the pond couldn’t be timelier as it provides her with the opportunity to attend her mother’s “commitment ceremony” to billionaire Philip Abernathy whose properties become convenient lodgings and are handily down the road from Marriott’s.

During her stay she develops a small network of friends and more acquaintances through whom she acquires crucial information about the lives, secrets, and lies of the players in their small seaside community. Her connections plant her in the midst of two fresh kills, an unresolved murder case, and impending disaster.

It’s a good recipe and Hope McIntyre gets points for imagination, effort, and rare infections of humour. Likewise, her attention to detail provides excellent visuals and accompanying insight into the characters’ lives.

How To Marry A Ghost begins in a compelling fashion however its ability to consistently capture and maintain attention wanes. An initial overabundance of characters makes it difficult to discern who is important and who is not. Many have no real bearing on the story and quickly dissolve into dust. Unfortunately, few of those who remain have much depth or likeability.

The plot for this mystery does not develop smoothly. There is much cris-crossing between old and new murders with fingers pointing to multiple suspects and little resolution along the way. The whys and wherefores come into question as many events seem to first happen out of the blue, appearing no more than tangential. Others perhaps designed to arouse suspense and quicken the heartbeat sadly go nowhere. Some developments border on the ridiculous: After all, who passionately makes out behind the door of the scene of a bloody shooting?

All is explained in the end yet one wonders if How To Marry A Ghost would have maintained interest and gained momentum if information about the two murders had unfolded over time rather than being laid bare in the form of a confession from a most unlikely suspect.

The final wrap up is almost too neat, having elements of “happily ever after” but without much courtship or believability. More focus and fewer trails would have made this mystery novel a more satisfying read. Those wishing for a linear, detective type novel should give this one a pass.

How To Marry A Ghost
Hope McIntyre
Mysterious Press 2007
368 pages

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