Sunday, May 29, 2011
THE FAMOUS FLOWER OF SERVING MEN by Deborah Grabien
Grabien ups the game a bit with her second supernatural mystery starring folksinger/restorationist Ringan Lane and his girlfriend Penelope Wintercraft-Hawkes.
Penelope is the head of a theatrical company, the Tamburlaine Players, that specializes in Elizabethan and Jacobean plays. She has an unexpected legacy one day: an aunt she barely knew has died, and has left her an abandoned theater and enough cash to renovate it. She's thrilled about the possibility of having a permanent home for her company, but of course, the theater turns out to be haunted, and she and Ringan have to marshal all their resources to end the haunting.
It's definitely a BIG improvement on her last book, The Weaver and the Factory Maid. The ghost is a genuine problem, not a minor nuisance. It makes the theater unusable and is actually responsible for a death, although it's ambiguous if it's a deliberate murder or just accidental. The scenes in the old theater are fun and atmospheric; how can one resist an abandoned, haunted theater?
There's still some problems. The haunting is connected to a long-ago murder case that inspired a classic folk ballad (which is, of course, the idea behind the series), and of course, they happen upon a historian who just happens to be obsessed with that case and makes it her specialty. And we're asked to buy that said historian is Penelope's sister's best friend whom Penny has never met (the friend, that is). But at least there's some real detection going on here, and a real menace to resolve, and it's done rather memorably.
So, it's an improvement, but still with flaws. However, those flaws don't disqualify it from being worth checking out.
As a bonus, here's a version of the ballad that inspired the book: