Monday, June 23, 2008

Ghost of a Chance (book) by Kate Marsh

Karma Marx is a transmortis anomaly exterminator - basically, if you've got spirits in your house and you'd like to be rid of them, Karma cleans your house. Although several characters spend a good portion of the early parts of the book harping on Karma's job, claiming that she's doing a bad thing by doing these exterminations, Karma almost always just relocates the beings, either to her own home or wherever else they wish.

This is the first book in a new series. Karma has just gotten undeniable proof that her husband is cheating on her, and she's determined to finally divorce him. Her husband, Spider, has agreed to make the divorce a civil one if she'll do one last cleaning job for him. She agrees, but she discovers she's also got to have a 15-year-old girl named Pixie (who prefers to be called whatever dark, Goth name she's chosen for herself within the past few minutes) tag along, since Karma's father has volunteered her as a foster mother. When Karma arrives at the house, she discovers that its former owner, Adam Dirgesinger, is not aware that it's no longer his, and he is very unhappy about the planned cleaning. An upset Adam magically seals the house so that no one can get in or out for 12 hours, effectively trapping Karma, Spider, Pixie (or whatever she wants to be called), Karma's father, Spider's business partner, and his business partner's wife in the house together. Adam is a powerful poltergeist - in Marsh's world, that means he's a solid being (not ghostly, although maybe that's part of their powers) who can have as many as four arms, who has a tendency to move around a lot, and who creates apports (tiny pebbles) in times of stress. Karma's father is a polter, Karma is a half-polter, and Pixie is a polter.

Not long after everyone gets sealed in together, Karma finds out shocking secrets about her husband and his business partner and her husband turns up dead. With the house sealed, the killer could only be someone who's been sealed inside, and Adam and Karma team up and try to find out who killed Spider before the house opens up again and they've got to report the murder to human authorities.

Kate Marsh is also Katie MacAlister and Katie Maxwell. In her biographical information in the back of the book, she says that this Karma Marx book is her way of indulging her love of mystery and moving a little way away from her usual romantic comedies. Unfortunately, the cover makes it clear that Katie MacAlister and Kate Marsh are the same person, so I couldn't help but begin this book expecting romance. Despite the potential for a relationship between Adam and Karma in future books, this is definitely not a romance. Also, by mentioning things like Guardians and the Akasha, Marsh reminds people of the Aisling Grey books she writes as Katie MacAlister - those would probably be called paranormal romance, so I was all set for a paranormal romantic mystery. Instead, I got a paranormal mystery. If you begin this book knowing this and not having the same expectations I did, you'll probably be fine. If you're like me, you might be a bit disappointed.

The variety of beings was one of the most fun parts of this book. I thought that poltergeists, polters for short, sounded pretty interesting, and Marsh gives readers lots of details about them. Karma's household full of strange beings was also fun. She's got a vegetable spirit in her fridge, a domovoi cleaning her house, an agoraphobic goddess, and a bunch of imps that think she's their mother. Adam also has a few interesting beings in his house - my favorite was the unicorn.

The mystery itself was not as much fun. It might've been better if it had been more expertly written and if it hadn't ended the way it had. It's difficult to say exactly why the ending was such a letdown without actually saying what the ending is. However, I can say that Marsh gives so many clues that, if the answer weren't contradictory to characters' thoughts and behaviors, I probably would've guessed it much sooner. Several characters behave in inconsistent ways and seem to conveniently forget things or conveniently not make certain connections. Although Karma (at least, I think it was Karma - it might've been Adam or her dad) explains that the apports of each individual polter have their own particular color, no one makes a big deal about the number of different apport colors found around the house and, more importantly, near the scene of Spider's murder. At one point, Adam makes a big point of saying that everyone must be considered a potential suspect. Then, later on, he refuses to consider the possibility that the beings who are his wards might be murderers. Karma, too, is guilty of inconsistency. The book is told in the first person from Karma's perspective, but Karma's thoughts throughout the book do not match the revelations in the end, nor do they really even hint at those revelations.

There are other things that bothered me. Near the beginning of the book, Karma discovers that Spider and his business partner had had sex with her underage cousin. The connection with other information was so obvious that even I could make it, and I usually get so involved in stories that I miss important details. Marsh, however, pretends that Karma is momentarily a blinding idiot who misses the obvious connection, just so that she can get the plot to go the way she wants it to. Sorry, that's clumsy writing, and having it be a locked-house mystery does not make it automatically clever.

My final issue was with Pixie, the Goth girl Karma was saddled with. Her constant insistence that her name was something other than Pixie, and her anger and panic every time Karma tried to ask her a little about herself and her past got on my nerves after a while. Yes, Pixie has had a rough life, and she's also a teenager and therefore moody, but I would've appreciated it if Marsh had toned it down a little. I imagine other people might be more forgiving about Pixie, however.

This was a quick read, so I'll probably pick up the next book in the series when it comes out. However, avid mystery readers will probably dislike this book for its clumsily executed mystery.

  • Summon the Keeper (book) by Tanya Huff - This is the first book in Huff's Keeper's Chronicles series. Claire Hansen, the Keeper, and her talking cat Austin are on their way to answer a summons when they get caught in a rainstorm and decide to stay at the Elysian Fields Guesthouse. The next morning, Claire finds out that she is the new owner of the guesthouse and has therefore been saddled with all its quirkiness and problems. There's a French ghost who'd like to get into Claire's pants, a hunky Boy Scout of a caretaker named Dean, a woman who's been sleeping in one of the rooms for decades, and a hole to Hell in the furnace room. Those who enjoyed reading about a woman like Karma who's used to dealing with weirdness and who'd like something with even more humor, mixed with a freaky situation, than Ghost of a Chance has might like this book. Also, there's a smidgen of romance.
  • You Slay Me (book) by Katie MacAlister - This is the first book in MacAlister's Aisling Grey series. If you liked the world Marsh writes about in Ghost of a Chance, then you might like this book, because it's set in the same world and written by the same author (Kate Marsh = Katie MacAlister). In this book, all Aisling Grey wanted to do was deliver an old, gold dragon statue to her uncle's client in Paris. Unfortunately, she ends up finding a dead woman and a sexy, mysterious man named Drake nearby. Drake disappears, along with the statue, and Aisling soon finds herself trying to prove that she wasn't the one responsible for the murder. To complicate matters, Aisling also discovers that she's a Guardian. This series has enough humor to make things fun, lots of sexual tension between Aisling and Drake, great minor characters (a demon in the form of a Newfoundland dog, for instance), and an interesting and complex magical world that exists, hidden, alongside the more mundane world.
  • No Humans Involved (book) by Kelley Armstrong - This is the 7th book in the Women of the Otherworld series and the first book from Jamie Vegas' perspective. Jaime Vegas is a necromancer who can reanimate the dead. She's also one of those TV mediums (think John Edwards, the psychic medium who had that show on the Sci Fi channel). Although Jaime's the real deal, no one in show biz actually knows that, and not everything she does on her show is real - she wants to be on TV, not studied by scientists or locked in an insane asylum. Now Jaime's got a chance at big-time fame and must prove herself as one of the three celebrity mediums on a TV special. Jaime suddenly finds herself having to deal with a serial-killing cult and the ghosts of murdered children. Luckily, Jeremy Danvers the Alpha werewolf drops by to help her out. Those who liked reading about someone who can see spirits and want something with a bit more romance in addition to a spooky mystery might like this.
  • Dime Store Magic (book) by Kelley Armstrong - This is the third book in the Women of the Otherworld series and the first book from Paige's perspective. Paige is a 23-year-old witch who, after the death of her mother, finds herself with the responsibility of being the new Coven leader, as well as the responsibility of taking care of Savannah, a gifted but rebellious 13-year-old girl who inherited her mother's talent for dark magic. Paige ends up having to enlist the help of Lucas Cortez, a nerdy-looking lawyer/sorcerer, despite the fact that witches and sorcerers don't get along well. Those who enjoyed reading about a world that incorporates the supernatural and the mundane world and a troubled teenage girl might like this book.
  • And Then There Were None (book) by Agatha Christie - Ten strangers are lured to Indian Island by a mysterious host. Once they have arrived, they are all accused of murder, and, one by one, they begin to die. No one is able to leave the island, and everyone's darkest secrets are gradually uncovered. Those who would like another mystery involving a limited number of suspects, a closed environment, and the gradual revelation of characters' secrets might like this book.

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