Reviewed by Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team
When Andre Beaufort has his friend Victor help him lug a 1920s player piano up three flights of stairs to his apartment in a one-time private mansion in Hoboken, New Jersey, he has no idea that there’s a ghost lurking inside.
Even more unexpected is the fact that the ghost, one Freddie Birtwistle, whose piano it was, and whose parents built the huge art-deco mansion in his youth, is surprised to find himself dead.
This is the jumping-off point to Joe Cosentino’s big-hearted and completely frenetic double murder-mystery. The book is actually two novellas, “The City House” and “The Country House,” both of which take place in former Birtwistle family residences and both of which have player pianos through which Freddie’s spirit can be conjured by Andre. It is a clever premise, and the author drags the reader at breakneck speed through a pair of cozy mysteries, plot points and character development delivered like laugh lines in a particularly hyperactive sitcom.
In this “I Love Lucy” meets Agatha Christie world, every possible social issue under the sun is laid out before us—racism, homophobia, religious intolerance, mental health, governmental negligence—along with every sort of personal emotional trauma that a character in a book can have suffered from. Cosentino teases us with interesting types of people—from Andre himself (mixed-race orphan), to unhappy adoptees, lonely alcoholics, repressed bisexuals, and mistreated immigrants. Other than a general sense of wardrobe and looks, we never get to really dig into this smorgasbord of personalities, and it’s frustrating. Cosentino sets up so much potentially engaging material, only to skate over its surface, never allowing the reader to get his hooks into the emotions lying below the brightly-colored surface.
Each of the novellas in the book could easily be expanded into a full-fledged novel, exploring in a very Miss Marple way the complicated interactions of people living at close quarters—not to mention the evolving relationship between a young public school music teacher and a century-old Jazz Age ghost.