A Ghost of a Flapper, December 3, 2014
Virginia’s Ghost (Kindle Edition)
I have always felt nervous in the presence of ghosts. Virginia’s Ghost was no different. I took courage from Author Caroline Kaiser as she led me into the auction house, introduced me to the lead character Virginia Blythe, and then left me, and I didn’t even notice. I was completely absorbed. Virginia is a somewhat nervous character, suspicious of almost everyone, but unlike some of the other employees of Auctioneers Gable & Co, she is a kind sympathetic person, and the perfect protagonist. She made me feel completely at home as I followed her effortlessly. She knew every nook and corner of the auction house. To the layperson, these places may appear as dumps for an assortment of other people’s discarded or distressed assets; just one step away from the scrapyard or landfill. But Virginia changed my mind. She even knew the 200 or so porcelain and ceramic figurines by their first names, as if they were all friends on a FB group. The author does an excellent job of describing ‘the innards’ and functioning of the vast ‘downstairs’ area in the basement, a perfect setting for a mystery story. Early on Virginia meets the ghost for the first time — a woman dressed like a flapper, who is happy speaking at a short distance, but disappears into a wisp of smoke just as Virginia tries to get closer, to know her.
A nervous Virginia shares her ghost experience cautiously with her different work colleagues, all of who are interesting characters, if somewhat hypocritical and dysfunctional as a team. They appear in and out of the story, adding snippets of gossip, rumour and innuendo. The plot thickens and reaches a climax when the overpowering, Brian Gable III boss, an alcohol addict and bully, discovers some very valuable porcelain antiques are missing just before an important sale event. Virginia is held responsible for finding the items, or else. I will leave the rest of the story for the reader to discover.
The author Caroline Kaiser has enriched the setting for Virginia’s Ghost enormously and very credibly, with her previous first-hand experience working in an auction house. Her current expertise as a fine editor results in a book that is beautifully written, meticulously edited, easy to read, informative and entertaining. I have no hesitation recommending it to readers and allocating it a 5 star rating.
Book Review by John Ambury
298 pages, paper, perfect-bound
Lavaliere Press, Toronto
© 2014, the author
Caroline Kaiser has taken on the challenge of interweaving a present-day murder mystery with events from many decades earlier. She proves herself up to the challenge, and then some!
The contemporary protagonist is narrator Virginia Blythe, an antiques specialist at a prestigious Toronto auction house. Kaiser draws on her experience in that field to give depth and realism to both the sometimes-eerie setting and Virginia’s mostly-unconventional co-workers.
The voice from the 1920s is that of Constance Pendleton, the eligible and socially-striving daughter of a moneyed Rosedale family. We access her story through her long-lost diary, which her ghost brings to Virginia’s rapt attention. Even though Constance is thinking of becoming a novelist, her prose comes off as rather too constructed and descriptive for a personal diary; a few entries in, however, the reader happily goes along for the sake of absorbing such a vivid picture of Constance, her times, and her emotional tribulations.
A mysterious death at the auction house (complicated by the disappearance of some valuable pieces), and the darkening events in Constance’s past life, unfold together. Refreshingly, both narratives include old-fashioned romantic yearning but no sexual gymnastics. Complications abound; suspense builds. Wraith-like Constance appears as a guiding hand at opportune moments. The eventual resolutions to both threads are satisfying, but not simplistic.
Kaiser’s writing is well-crafted and careful (as befits a professional editor), but is neither pretentious nor affected. She develops the totally credible plots with the skill of a much more experienced novelist. Her many characters are deftly sketched, mainly through their actions and interactions and revealing snippets of their back-stories.
Virginia’s Ghost will readily engage your mind and probably your heart. It is not earth-shatteringly profound in either sphere, but it’s not meant to be. It’s a well-written tale and a rewarding read (ideally by a cozy evening fire) — filled with atmosphere and movement and interesting people. And mystery!