Pepper Martin thought her newly acquired ability to see ghosts was a one-shot deal. That once Gus Scarpetti moved on to the great hereafter, she could go back to her normal life where only the living talked to her. She was wrong. It seems Gus has been talking her up in the afterlife, and sends Didi Bowman her way.
Didi died in the 1950s and was the sister of Merilee Bowman, Cleveland native and bestselling author of the Civil War novel So Far the Dawn. Didi claims she, not Merilee, actually wrote the book, and wants Pepper to prove it so that Didi’s disadvantaged teenage granddaughter can collect the royalties. After some hesitation, Pepper agrees. She soon learns that Didi may have been the victim of murder as well as plagiarism. Did Merilee do it, or was Didi’s married lover a little too eager to cover up their affair, or is Didi lying about everything? And can Pepper figure it all out before she’s as dead as Didi?
Trouble is, there’s very little mystery in this mystery. It’s too easy to armchair-solve. Pepper valiantly chases down several red herrings, but they’re never quite convincing to the reader. Other quibbles: the ages of characters don’t always make sense — if someone is born in 1956 and becomes “a mother too young,” her child is not going to be a high schooler in 2004 — and I found myself wondering whether you can really die of suffocation by too-tight corset. (Internal damage if you wear one for years, sure, but…)
The Chick and the Dead is at its best when poking gentle fun at obsessive book fandom. Casey Daniels is specifically referring to Gone with the Wind fans, but her descriptions fit other groups of fans who idolize their favorite authors, collect tons of book and movie memorabilia, etc. I also enjoyed the plotline involving the mysterious Dan Callahan, whose brief appearances in this book raise more questions than they answer. I look forward to seeing what happens with him.
The Chick and the Dead is a funny, quick read that can be enjoyable if you read it with accurate expectations. Think of it as chick lit with a paranormal twist, and don’t expect too much from the mystery plotting.