It’s hard to imagine a more topical cozy mystery than Casey Daniels’ Dead Man Talking: not only is Pepper Martin a detective for ghosts—helping them by solving crimes that keep them from moving on ("I don’t waste my Gift on dumb stuff," she likes to tell those who are trying to locate missing items and people)—but her job as a tour guide at Monroe Street Cemetery in Cleveland is about to involve her in a reality television series for PBS. The show pits two groups against each other. On one side are the genteel ladies of the Historical Society, a group Pepper is none too fond of for personal reasons. That group also includes former supermodel Bianca, who now runs an exclusive boutique that’s just the kind of place Pepper would like to work. On the other are a ragtag group of minor criminal types who have been sentenced to community service. Guess which team Pepper is leading?
This is the fifth in the Pepper Martin series, but have no concerns about jumping in at this juncture: Pepper, a first-person narrator, provides all the information the reader needs to know from previous novels without ever giving too much away.
If Pepper didn’t have trouble enough with trying to keep her group in order while still impressing Bianca with her fashion sense, she’s also the target of dead former prison warden Jefferson Lamar, a man who says he was falsely accused and convicted of the death of his secretary. He can’t rest until his widow knows that he wasn’t guilty, and Pepper hasto help him. So soon Pepper is stealing time from her work at the cemetery—and her appearances on the increasingly popular television show—to interview anyone who might know more about Lamar’s situation, including a number of perhaps not-so-former criminals.
Though I found a late present-day murder in Dead Man Talking a disappointing and unnecessary surprise, Pepper is a heroine notable for her refreshing lack of self-censorship: she doesn’t hesitate to hide her ambition or her own snobbery (a quality she doesn’t care for in the ladies of the opposing team). Her boyfriend, a cop, bears no resemblance to the almost saintly husbands featured on television series about women who see ghosts or dream about crimes. When Pepper finally bares her soul to him about what she does and why, he doesn’t believe her. Pepper deserves better.
Joanne Collings cozies up with a good book in Washington, D.C.