Dying For The Past, the second in what T.J. O’Connor calls his “Gumshoe Ghost Mystery” series, is an overly complicated tale of gangsters and murder over four generations. It features ghost detective Oliver “Tuck” Tucker who is still around having solved his own murder in the series debut Dying To Know. This time Tuck is out to find the killer of one of the guests at a fancy charity ball hosted by his widow Angela, who along with his ex-partner Bear Braddock, is one of the few living people who can still communicate with him.
The murder investigation leads the detectives, living and dead, to a convoluted narrative involving a gaggle of gangsters also living, retired and dead, as well as Italian, Russian, and even a Cuban or two. It goes all the way back before the Second World War and involves Communist spies and Nazis, and a mysterious book that had sufficient secret information to keep whoever holds it and their families safe from any harm, and presumably still has that same kind of protective value.
Now I have no objection to the idea of a ghost detective, or any ghost at all. It is, after all, a ghost that sends young Hamlet off on his merry chase. It is a ghostly pair that seduces the young children in The Turn of the Screw. Not to mention the fun loving spooks in the Topper series or that friendly ghost, Casper. Ghosts friendly and otherwise have long been a staple of literature, and why draw the line at a detective?
No, the idea of a spiritual sleuth is not in and of itself a deal breaker; it is this particular ghostly gumshoe that I have a problem with. It is Tuck Oliver who doesn’t quite work for me. He serves as the narrator of the tale, and his isn’t a particularly engaging voice. A sophomoric attitude more often than not substitutes for wit. He has way too much back story he feels compelled to present to the reader, much of which is really unnecessary, and some of which doesn’t make sense. Perhaps it would have been easier to create the willing suspension of disbelief necessary for a well-crafted story of the supernatural if one of the other characters—Bear or Angela, his widow—were to have narrated the story.
One caution for anyone inclined to pursue the series: Dying For The Past contains a lot of spoilers for anyone who intends to read Dying To Know. So, it would make sense to read Tuck’s debut novel first.
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