I’ve been enjoying the audio versions, read by Xe Sands, of Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES series, so I thought I’d give the audio versions (also read by Xe Sands) of Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION MYSTERIES a try. These are also paranormal cozy mysteries which take place in San Francisco and which feature a slightly socially awkward independent woman running her own business.
In If Walls Could Talk, the first HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION book, we meet Melanie (“Mel”) Turner, a divorced ABD (All But Dissertation) anthropologist who took over her family’s construction business after her mother died and her father became depressed. Turner Construction’s area of expertise is renovating old houses in the historical districts of San Francisco. When Mel enters an old home, she can sense how things were, how they should be, and what she needs to do to bring the house back to its former glory.
She doesn’t realize that this knack is anything magical, though, until she sees a ghost while working on the house of her friend Matt, a washed up British rock star. The ghost is Matt’s business partner and he’s just been killed with power tools. When Matt is jailed for the crime and the ghost starts following Mel around, she feels the need to solve the murder mystery so everyone can rest. This involves a lot of footwork and a lot of danger.
If Walls Could Talk is an enjoyable cozy mystery with a pleasant cast of characters. It’s impossible not to like Mel, a smart hard-working woman who, because she’s divorced and dropped out of graduate school, feels like she’s a failure and just wants to run away to France. Mel is backed up by her conservative gun-toting father who loves to cook for everyone, a family friend who’s in a wheelchair, her teenage stepson Caleb who spends most of his time playing video games, the OSHA agent she used to have a crush on, her snarky girlfriend who’s a sociologist, her friend Stephen who’s a fashion designer, and a dog who follows her home.
The plot of the power tool murder mystery isn’t as tight (or as interesting) as I’d prefer, and there were places where I just didn’t believe the story, such as when Mel forgets she has an evening meeting with the sexy OSHA agent. But I suspect that the readers who’ll enjoy this series most are those that just like the setting and characters and want to follow Mel’s personal life. The romantic tension is probably the appeal of this series.
There are a lot of parallels with this series and Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES. I was disappointed by this. Mel is essentially the same person as Lily Ivory. Lily runs a vintage clothes store and gets vibes from old clothes. She sells and tailors these clothes for modern people. Similarly, Mel gets vibes from old houses. She renovates them for their new owners. Both women are nosey, interfere with crime scenes, and solve murders. Both are surrounded by numerous gorgeous men that are jealous of each other. Both wear cute quirky clothes (and tell us what they’re wearing at every moment), both wear something that they “stroke” for comfort, and both acquire an animal sidekick who is illustrated on the book jackets. Readers who can’t get enough of Lily Ivory’s stories may be pleased to encounter this series (and vice versa) but I was hoping for something new. One thing, though, that I do love about both series is that I get to learn some San Francisco history in nearly every book. In If Walls Could Talk, I learned about Emperor Norton.
As she always does, Xe Sands does an amazing job with the narration of Tantor Audio’s version of If Wall Could Talk. I love her voices, especially for the sexy male characters! However, the fact that she narrates both of Blackwell’s series contributes to the feeling that they’re indistinguishable. If Wall Could Talk is 7.5 hours long.