A light-hearted and enjoyable series starter!
The Two Hundred Ghost is the first book in Henrietta Hamilton’s Sally and Johnny Heldar series. At this point, Sally and Johnny aren’t yet married, so it’s an origin story of sorts, and other familiar characters (Tim, Father William) make their initial appearances too. And it’s set in one of my favorite locations: an antiquarian bookstore. More specifically, it’s set in the Heldars’ Charing Cross bookstore, complete with rare editions, quirky staff, and even quirkier customers. Of course, per the title, the store also comes with its own ghost.
(I have very fond memories of sneaking a couple of hours to browse in the bookshops along Charing Cross Road years ago, whenever I had a business trip to the UK. And of bringing along an extra bag just for the books I bought to take home – although I wasn’t buying antiquarian books, just ordinary used books that were hard to find in the US. But I never encountered a ghost there. Sigh!)
As far as the story goes, The Two Hundred Ghost is simply a delightful Golden Age cozy. The victim is pretty much a jerk, and so there are lots of suspects – the women he hassled, the other employees he annoyed, and even some customers who seemed almost scared of him. Hamilton plays fair with readers, so clues abound, and there were three or four times I was convinced I knew whodunnit. But although it did turn out to be one of the people I suspected, I wasn’t at all sure. So, if I’m honest, I was still guessing at the end.
All-in-all, if there is a downside to The Two Hundred Ghost, it’s that there’s not a ton of depth to it. But it’s a cozy, and so that’s not really expected. And even though it’s a bit light, it is well written (both the plot and the writing itself), and you want to keep reading. So…pick this one up sometime when you don’t want to stretch your brain, but just want a good bit of fun, and you’ll be happy.
One final note: Sadly, after publishing some of Hamilton’s books both in e-book and print-on-demand, Agora Books/Crime Classics, who acquired the rights to the series from Hamilton’s nephews, have gone out of business. As a result, at least as of now, these books are not available in new editions in either format. So if you want to read The Two Hundred Ghost, you’ll have to buy a used paper version online. Or, perhaps more fittingly 😀, keep an eye out for it at your favorite used bookstores. And hopefully the nephews can get the rights back and persuade someone else to (re)publish, since I still haven’t read some of the series. And last, but not least, my thanks to the now defunct Agora Books, and to NetGalley, for the review copy.
Buy at Amazon US (paperback only)