by Cynthia Chow
& Leigh Perry
This week we have a review of the first book in a brand new series from Toni P. Kelner writing as Leigh Perry. We also have a fun guest post from Toni about writing a supernatural mystery, and you can enter to win a copy of A Skeleton in the Family-details at the end of this post.
A Skeleton in the Family By Leigh Perry
Review by Cynthia Chow
As an adjunct English professor and a single mother, Georgia Thackery is accustomed to the nomadic lifestyle completely at the whim of colleges that provide minimal benefits, torturous class schedules, little respect and tiny salaries. Desks are optional. As the daughter of two tenured professors at McQuaid University in Massachusetts, Georgia feels no little inadequacy, but it is only while they are away on sabbaticals that she takes advantage of a sudden vacancy and accepts a temporary position at their institution.
While Georgia has never asked her parents to pull strings she has no compunction about borrowing their parking passes or conducting student conferences in their office. Having rotated through seven different universities and colleges during her teaching career, Georgia is familiar with most of the other serf-like adjunct professors at McQuaid, but she is rather pleased to meet the newbie, Fletcher Wildman, a reporter for The Pennyman Gazette teaching one class and who makes his mutual admiration for Georgia quite evident.
While this examination of the exploitive world of untenured adjunct professors is more than compelling enough to carry the novel, the author throws in one completely unique twist; living in her parents’ home is Sid, a “living,” talking, completely visible and totally interactive skeleton. Since she was six years old Georgia and her family have accepted his presence in their lives and by being Georgia’s best friend and confidant he has protected, comforted and guided her throughout her life. After their teen years Georgia’s “perfect” sister Deborah decided that she was too mature and grounded to talk to Sid, and so she rejected his existence. While Sid delights in poking at Deborah’s ineffective attempts at ignoring him, he seems stubbornly resistant at revealing himself to Georgia’s teenage daughter, Madison.
So it is a little unusual when Sid insists on attending the “Mangachusetts” anime convention with Madison and Georgia. Having frequently accompanied Georgia during her childhood Halloween trick-or-treating (dressed as a skeleton, of course), Sid sees no reason why he can’t attend the anime con dressed as a skeletal Lord Death “Shigami” of “Soul Eater.” While the entirely covered costume might as well have been the Hulk considering that it hides his bones completely, Sid enjoys the opportunity to meet and mingle with others.
However, it results in one shocking revelation; although Sid has no memories pre-meeting Georgia, he recognizes one of the accidental attendees, zooarchaeologist Dr. Jocasta Kirkland. Before they can question her about Sid though, the budding detectives discover Dr. Kirkland’s body in her home and Georgia’s anonymous call to the police has her continually on edge and fearing immediate arrest.
Unable to allow her best friend to continue existing without knowing how he came to his current state, Georgia takes his bones to a rival college’s anthropology department and discovers that Sid was indeed murdered. How she will uncover his identity, how he was connected to the late professor and just who murdered him, will be far more complex. Not to mention the question of just why Sid is able to exist at all!
What is so enjoyable and engaging about this debut series is that the author, a pseudonym for the award-winning and very popular mystery writer, Toni L.P. Kelner, introduces two very original and fascinating elements. The world of adjunct professors is so interesting, their exploitation proves to be riveting and their ironic existence at the mercy of the university is hilarious.
Perry manages to achieve something I thought would be impossible; making a living skeleton who exists in the “real” world somehow seem completely believable. While I at first wondered if Sid was perhaps a figment of Georgia’s imagination it soon becomes evident that her entire family has in fact engaged with Sid and accepted him as a part of their lives. The fact that Georgia’s parents never investigated his existence becomes more understandable when it is revealed how he first met Georgia.
The author’s dry humor and ability to poke fun at the pretentious is always evident and this eccentric mystery proves to be surprisingly grounded and realistic. I loved this fun mystery and can’t wait for a sequel that includes this bony and very likable sidekick.
Just a Little Bit of Magic
By Leigh Perry
I love The Lord of the Rings–I’ve read all the books and watched the extended versions of the movies multiple times. Ditto, the Harry Potter books and movies. I’ve even been to Harry Potter World in Orlando–twice–and attended museum exhibitions for both movie franchises. Andre Norton’s Witch World isn’t quite so well known, though it goes back further and I adore those books too.
I also love urban fantasies. I’m a longtime fan of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books and True Blood, the series it inspired. I’ve watched and re-watched every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and am addicted to the fictional San Francisco in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye books, a mystic version of London in Suzanne McLeod Spell Crackers, and the many exotic locales in Dana Cameron’s Fangborn series.
But once I close that book, leave the movie theater or turn off my TV, I’m happy to return to this world. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to live in Middle-Earth or in any of the lands of Witch World, or even in Hogsmeade! I think it’s because I’m really addicted to my modern conveniences: TV, the internet, takeout pizza, washing machines. Magic is great, but I wouldn’t trade my car for a wand, ring or orb. The urban fantasy worlds would allow me the internet, but I’d pay the price of constant danger and challenges brought on by all the evil paranormal denizens, and I don’t think there’s an iPhone app for demon slaying.
Still, I wouldn’t mind just a little bit of magic in my life, a pinch of pixie dust, a useful cantrip or a helpful magic doodad. I don’t think I’m alone in that, and I think that’s why lately the paranormal has been haunting the mystery shelves of bookstores.
Carolyn Hart has ghostly sleuth, Bailey Ruth Raeburn, and Nela Farley, who can understand the thoughts of cats. Joyce and Jim Lavene give us Dae O’Donnell, with her gift for finding lost things. Juliet Blackwell publishes mysteries with witches and haunted houses, while Paige Shelton’s characters see ghosts. Sophie Kelly’s writes about magical cat, and Bailey Cates’ hedge witch runs a magical bakery.
These are all paranormal mysteries, but the worlds are only a tiny bit different from ours. You get that sense of wonder, without creating a sleuth who is so all-powerful that there’s no suspense in the collection of clues and figuring out the solution. After all, talking with cats and baking be-spelled brownies only goes so far in finding killers, and that makes for much more exciting books.
I recently joined the coven, so to speak, with A Skeleton in the Family, my first Family Skeleton mystery. Since witches, ghosts, cats and various kinds of psychics were already so ably represented, I came up with Sid.
Sid’s a skeleton.
Sid walks, he talks, he makes bad bone jokes and since this is a mystery, of course he can help find killers–in this case, his own murderer! He works with adjunct English professor, Georgia Thackery, the totally normal person he lives with. Well, she’s normal if you can say it’s normal to accept the presence of a walking, talking skeleton in your attic. In Georgia’s case, it’s because Sid joined her family when she was only six and when you’re six, most of the world is so strange that a skeletal best buddy doesn’t seem all that unusual.
What’s the explanation for Sid’s life? Unlife? Semi-life? There isn’t one. Maybe he’s a really skinny zombie, or was bitten by a radioactive skeleton or he’s a ghost haunting his own skeleton. It doesn’t matter. He’s just…Sid.
Sid doesn’t fly or cast spells or talk with other skeletons, though that last one might have been a mistake on my part. It would be awfully convenient for a sleuth to act as the Bone Whisperer! He does fall apart at will or when depressed, can reassemble swiftly and talk even when his head is off of his shoulders, but that’s it. Like those other paranormal sleuths, he’s only paranormal enough to make life interesting. And really, who wouldn’t mind just a little bit of magic in their lives?
To enter to win a copy of A Skeleton in the Family, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Skeleton,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September, 28 2013. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.