Ellie has an ailing sister to care for, and working as a ghost hunter who doesn’t believe in ghosts helps cover the bills for both of them. When she’s lucky, it also pays for the occasional tropical vacation. Her brother doesn’t exactly approve, but Ellie figures she’s providing a service. On her latest job, though, she may be in for some genuine scares.
The skeptical, reserved, and very rich Nicholas Hartford III has flown her all the way to his family’s ancestral estate in England—supposedly haunted by a phantom named Xavier. Nicholas thinks it’s all just as much a crock as Ellie’s business is, but the fact remains that something is causing the flashes of light, mysterious accidents, and other apparent pranks in the chilly, eerie castle. His mother is sure that Xavier is real, and he’s willing to employ Ellie if she can get to the bottom of it and put a stop to the nonsense.
While the food and accommodations are somewhat disappointing (dorm-room furniture? Really?), Ellie is finding it an adventure to get to know this eccentric family and their houseguests, and to poke around in the nearby village for clues. But when an actual dead body appears—and subsequently disappears—at Castle Hartford, she’ll have to apply her talent for trickery and psychological insight to solve a flesh-and-blood murder.
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"Hand me the maiden's sacrifice."
The woman standing beside me frowns through the haze of burned sage, the air a perfumed whirl that cloaks the senses and confuses the eye. The whole room is dark save for the flickering candles from the mantelpiece, which cast fluid shadows on the blood-splattered walls. It feels as if we're all standing at the gates of hell.
"Maiden's sacrifice?" she echoes.
"Yes, please. And with all due expedience. Her spirit is retreating."
I extend my hand, my bracelets filling the air with the clack of protective obsidian, and wait. Then I wait a little more, because no one is putting anything in it.
"The sacrifice, if you please," I demand again. "She's aware of our intentions. I don't know how much time we have."
"She means the wine," a voice hisses from the depths of the darkness. I don't turn my head for fear of losing concentration, but there's no need to identify the owner of the voice. I felt the young man's aura enter the room about five minutes ago. He's only a half-believer, which is why I'm having such a hard time holding on to Mary as it is. She senses his disdain and is recoiling from it much more strongly than I'd anticipated.
"Do you think she wants merlot, or is cabernet okay?"
I bite back a sigh. "You'll find that it's actually a 1945 Beaujolais — the year of Mary's death. It's by the door."
The three people in the room release an exhalation of understanding, which continues until one of them finally places the bottle in my hand. The cork has been pre-loosened, so all it takes to open it is a tug and a loud pop that's swallowed by the choking silence settling over the room.
The silence grows as everyone collectively stops breathing to see what happens next. It would have been nice to spend a few more minutes with Mary in hopes of communicating with her directly, but I don't choose the time.
The time chooses me.
A preternatural howl fills the air, starting at the ceiling and working its way downward. The smoke and candlelight move with it, flickering out and filling our lungs as the entire room is plunged into blackness and a bone-deep cold. The wine bottle flies from my fingers before I have a chance to recite a prayer of goodwill. It crashes to the ground with a thump and the muted shatter of glass on carpet.
"Is she still here?"
"That's my foot — ouch! You're stepping on my foot."
The lights come on so suddenly that we're plunged into painful, blinking awareness of our surroundings. My vision, accustomed to the playfulness of spirits and their quick changes of light, clears right away, so I wait patiently for the other three to catch up. Mrs. Levitt is the first to cross the line. The prematurely white-haired matron emits a scream that's half horror, half delight.
"She was here! She was actually here!"
Since the furniture that's been thrown around the room and the blood-spattered walls have already proven that beyond a reasonable doubt, I wait for one of the other two — Mrs. Levitt's next-door-neighbor, a pretty young woman by the name of Becky, or her son, the latecomer to our little session — to elaborate.
"Is that ..." The son, whose flat, black hair matches the dullness of his aura, takes a step forward, careful not to land where the wine has left an imprint on the white carpet. "It can't be. It's impossible."
"Nothing is impossible," I say, but I doubt he hears me. I've been present at enough cleansings to know that I've suddenly become the least important person in the room. Never mind that I was the one to break through to Mary, to see beyond the mischief of her spirit to discover the troubled and restless soul underneath. Of even less importance is the fact that I'm the only person she treated with a modicum of respect — enough respect to actually listen when I urged her to move out of this house and into the next realm. As is always the case, only the bloody, gory, macabre details matter.
People love the bloody, the gory, the macabre.
"I can see the outline of her body!" Becky gasps and reaches for Mrs. Levitt's son. Their auras mingle with a spark of electricity. I sense a match in the future, despite the inauspicious conditions of their meeting. "Her feet are right here, and her arms are spread out on either side, and her head ..."
Her voice grows thick as it trails away, not stopping until Mrs. Levitt's son offers a willing shoulder for her sob.
"Her head, as you've noticed, is twisted off to one side. I believe we finally have the answers we've been seeking." I reach for a knitted afghan draped over the back of a couch and lay it gently over the outline of the figure, formed from the spilled wine. The dark red liquid has seeped into the carpet around what appears to be the shape of the fallen woman's body. I don't have to look up to the balcony to set the rest of the scene. My audience's imaginations are more than capable of filling in the details of her final plunge.
The chill in the room is less apparent now that Mary has gone, but my body has grown tired of the exertions put on it over the past forty-eight hours. I wrap my arms around myself for warmth. Mrs. Levitt, the only person in the room not preoccupied with comforting embraces and sobbing shoulders, sees me and offers a seat on the aforementioned couch.
"No." I shake my head. "I don't want to linger. My prolonged presence can sometimes act as a conduit for the spirit to find its way back."
Mrs. Levitt's mouth opens and closes again. "Really? That can happen?"
"It's not common, but it's not unheard of. Now that Mary's claim on the house has been cut off, I'm the only remaining tie she has to this realm. The negative energy in your home should clear in the next few weeks, but enough of it lingers to act as a lure. It's best for me to get as far from here as possible to avoid a recurrence."
And to immerse myself in as many positive energies as I can find, but I don't say that part out loud. For some reason, my clients like to imagine that I go from dark possession to dark possession, never resting my earthly feet anywhere there might be sunshine or light. But after a cleansing like this one, sunshine and light are essential.
This time of year, I'm thinking Mexico. Definitely Mexico.
"Of course." Mrs. Levitt's son is the one to act this time, and he nods as if he hasn't spent the past forty-eight hours doing everything in his power to prevent me from finishing the job. He even seems to forget the part where he threatened to call in the police. "You'll want to get on your way. I'll see you out."
"I need to gather my things first," I say.
His eyes narrow in suspicion. "What sort of things?" "My overnight bag, my toothbrush, the talismans I placed in your mother's energy vortexes ..."
He blinks at me. The average human being's ability to understand the nuances of my profession is slim, to say the least.
"It shouldn't take me more than ten minutes," I say as calmly as I can. In addition to flagging energy, my patience has a way of wearing off rather quickly after an event like this one. "No, no — it'll be faster if I do it on my own. And this will give you a chance to come up with the other half of the payment."
"The other half?" His expected outrage comes out in full, though I suspect he's attempting to hold some of it at bay for Becky's sake. "But we already paid you two thousand dollars!"
"Yes, and I understand that kind of money isn't easy to come up with on such short notice. But I wasn't kidding about that being a 1945 Beaujolais — the wine alone means I'll barely be breaking even on this exorcism."
"You couldn't have used a bottle of the table wine we have in the kitchen?"
I smile sadly at him. Some people will never appreciate the finesse that goes into what I do. "Not unless your ghost happened to be the murdered remnants of a 2016 vintage. Sorry. You should be grateful your haunting was restricted to the twentieth century. You wouldn't believe the going rate for medieval ghosts. It's almost impossible to find anything corked in the middle ages."
On that parting shot, I leave him to figure out the details with his mother. I don't think they'll give me any trouble regarding my fees, but I can always threaten to park myself in their living room until they manage to come up with the cash. Now that they know keeping me around means Mary might make a return appearance, I get the feeling they'll do anything they can to see the last of me.
It takes the full ten minutes to gather my supplies, which have been carefully placed throughout the house for maximum efficacy. The Levitt home dates to the early nineteen-twenties, which means there are dozens of hidden nooks and crannies where evil spirits can dwell. I concentrated most of my efforts in the attic, so that's where I head now. Hoping they're too busy arguing over my payment to notice the telltale creak of the attic stairs being lowered, I slip up into the wooden rafters to grab the most important tools of the trade — a bottle of super-hydrophobic spray and a portable air conditioner I placed near the home's HVAC vents.
The spray, one of my favorite tricks, is a prime example of the latest nuances of nanotechnology and its domestic applications. Some day in the near future, people will coat their homes in the stuff. It acts as a barrier for moisture of all kinds. Neither water nor bleach nor, as my activities downstairs have proven, red wine are able to pass through it to the fabric below. I used the spray to paint the shape of the dead woman on the carpet late last night, when Mrs. Levitt was huddled in bed, ignoring the thumps of her haunting.
The thumps, by the way, were a family of rats in the attic. I relocated them to the field out behind the house.
The portable air conditioner is just as easily explained. Cold drafts have long been associated with ghosts, and I needed a quick and easy way to snuff the candles at the moment of crisis. A perfectly timed gust of air-conditioning will do the trick — and because my system is set to last only a few minutes, no one thinks to question the ventilation system afterward.
It sounds bad, I know. And it looks even worse, especially once you figure in the work this family's going to have to do to set their house to rights after I broke all that furniture and smeared chicken guts on the wall. But the reality is that I haven't done anything Mrs. Levitt didn't ask for. When I got the phone call last week, she was tearful, frantic, desperate for someone to rid her home of the phantasmagoric plague that had cursed it ever since she found it listed on an online ghost registry.
You see, the real crooks in this world aren't the people like me, who eliminate ghosts when people have nowhere else to turn — it's those who invent them in the first place. The owners and operators of www.HowHauntedIsMyHouse.com are the ones who truly deserve our censure.
And to be fair, I did exactly what I promised. I got rid of the cause of trouble (those disgusting rats in the attic), and even more to the point, I purged Mrs. Levitt of the belief of said trouble. There's an important lesson in there. When I first became a ghost hunter, called to the profession nobly and with the most earnest of intentions, I didn't pay as much attention to the theatrical side of things, and my customers were almost always dissatisfied.
What do you mean, it's only termites?
Don't be absurd — there are no geomagnetic fields under my house.
My son would never switch the pictures on the wall in the middle of the night just to mess with me.
That lack of appreciation for my hard work hurt, to be honest. People don't want termites and obnoxious sons. They want dead bodies, and they'll go to alarming lengths to get them. Better a fake ghost today than one of them taking up murder as a hobby tomorrow — that's my motto.
As if to prove my point, the three members of my audience stand huddled around the body's outline when I return to the living room. They gasp and drop the blanket as if caught peeking up a lady's skirt. I smile to show them I understand the fallibility of mere mortal beings such as themselves.
"I left the protective amulet above your headboard," I tell Mrs. Levitt. "I don't think you'll need it any longer, but it's always nice to have that extra layer of insurance in place. Especially for a single woman living alone."
"Oh, thank you! Yes. How lovely." She rushes forward and presses a piece of paper into my hand. A check. "Jimmy is furious with me, but I added a little something extra to your fee. I can't tell you how grateful I am to have helped Mary's spirit find its eternal rest."
I do my best not to show my disappointment. Cashing checks is always a tricky business in my line of work. Naming my company Eleanor's Cleansing Service proved somewhat beneficial, since it sounds as if I carry rolls of paper towels instead of rolls of ectoplasm in the back of my hearse, but I never like having the watchful eye of Uncle Sam coming too close.
Uncle Sam is a judgmental old bastard.
"Thank you, Mrs. Levitt. I'm the one who should be grateful to you." I give her hand — and the check — a squeeze. "Putting restless spirits at ease is fatiguing but so rewarding. Not everyone has an opportunity to help people on both sides of the ether. I wouldn't change professions for this world. Or, you know, the next one."
And with that, I hoist the vintage medical bag containing all my tricks of the trade over my shoulder. To show you what a good person I am, I pause before making my escape, leaning forward as if to brush a light kiss on Becky's cheek.
"You two will be very happy together," I murmur. "You'll live a long, fruitful life free of spirits — restless or otherwise. I see three children. All girls."
Her blush and gasp of delight is all I need to know that I've done everything I can here. Pulling my gloves on tightly and making for the door, I notch one more happy customer on my figurative belt.
Now. Who said something about Mexico?CHAPTER 2
"I don't want your dirty margarita."
As if to prove how much he means it, my brother pushes his beverage across the table, sloshing tequila and lime all over the salsa verde. The frown he's been wearing ever since he walked through the door disappears as he smiles up at the waiter, a large, mustachioed man who happens to be his type. "I'll have a glass of water, thanks. And if she orders me anything else, you can go ahead and cancel it in advance."
"Good. That means there's more for me." I also smile up at the waiter. I've never been fond of facial hair, since there's something so scruffy about it, but largeness is a trait that appeals to me on a much baser level. "You'll have to forgive my brother. He's on a diet."
My brother, William, an elementary school gym teacher who works off about a billion calories a day, puts his frown back on. "I am not. I'm opposed to beverages bought with immoral money, that's all."
"My money is not immoral."
"Oh, really? Why don't you tell" — he breaks off to read our waiter's nametag — "Kevin here what it is you do for a living, and we'll let him be the judge. Go on. I'm sure he's dying to hear all about it."
To his credit, Kevin does appear to be interested in my story, but I imagine that's mostly because he assumes I earn my keep on a pole.
"I'll drink the second margarita for him," I say primly. As soon as we watch Kevin's large, retreating form disappear around the corner, I hiss, "Thanks for that, Liam. Now he's going to tell the entire kitchen staff about the exotic dancer at table twelve."
Liam snorts. "No one here thinks you're an exotic dancer, Ellie. I promise you that much."
If my brother's words seem harsh, I should probably note that I haven't yet changed out of the costume I wear when ghost hunting. In the ordinary way of things, I like to think I'm attractive enough. Though a little on the pale side, I have extremely dark hair and eyebrows, which I've been told have a striking effect on men when they first meet me. If some people say that's only because I look like an angsty high school student who's finally reached the legal age of consent, I would counter by saying that he's jealous his own youthful good looks don't lend themselves to impressing other men at the gym.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Séances Are for Suckers"
Copyright © 2018 Tamara Berry.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Interesting read. Funny.and intriguing characters. Would like to read the next adventure.
I'm really getting into these cozy mysteries books. Just a way to get a quick escape from typical life. No major drama or action keeping me awake or can't put the book down. Just a nice relaxing read. Nice story too. Will enjoy reading about Ellie's adventures again.
This is a great book with a wonderful story and well developed characters. The story flowed very well and was very enjoyable. This book will keep you reading long into the night and you will not want to put this book down until you finish. This was such a great read and full of surprises. I am looking forward to reading other books by this great author.
Interesting characters and an interesting plot. Loved the way Ellie kept trying to figure out who the ghost was. I hope there's more in this series.
It was a good read for a snowy winter day.
The moment I picked this up I knew I wouldn't be able to put this down. The author can tell a story good and leave you wanting to continue on because you just have to know what's going to happen next. While visiting her sister in a home, a client, Nicholas, interrupts their 'talk' by wanting to hire her so she can put this ghost talk of Xavier out of his mother's mind. Shortly after Ellie hops on a plane to England and makes her way to Hartford Castle. There we meet Rachel, Nicholas's niece, Fern, his sister, Cal, Ferns beau, and Vivian, the mother. Ellie had it all figured out, thinking it's one of the family members or Cal, but after getting to know them she's not so sure. Just like Ellie I had in mind who's doing the 'haunting', but it was way different than hers, even when she revealed who she thought it was like. I was like "Oh yeah, that made sense, even though you convinced it wasn't." Around the 90% things started to really get good that it was making me so nervous. I was confused for the most part until it was explained. The ship in this book...baby Cheesezus, the ship in this book makes me so happy. I haven't felt this way about a ship in so long. So thanks for that. All the characters in here are my favorite, okay maybe Rachel is my favorite by far, but still. They have their own personalities and backstories that aren't flimsy you know. Their relationships to one another is great to see unfold and seeing the results of certain things being revealed coming to light. Tamara had me believing everyone was in on it and I'm just...no words. The writing and the story telling is so good. I'm looking forward to reading more books from her.
Dollycas’s Thoughts In this 1st book of this series, we meet Eleanor Wilde, a self-proclaimed fake medium. She is a ghost hunter that doesn’t believe in ghosts. Eleanor is turning peoples fears into profits to help pay the bills for her sister in a long-term care facility. Her current job takes her to a musty old castle in England. Nicholas Hartford III doesn’t believe in ghosts either but he is hoping Ellie can convince his mother that her ghost, Xavier has left the building. Ellie is up for the job but the rest of the Hartford, staff, family and their guest takes crazy to a whole new level. She is surprised by her accommodations and the food served is horrible, but she needs the money and she is not a quitter. Even after she stumbles upon a real dead body she doesn’t give up. In fact, solving a real murder could be quite interesting . . . if she lives to tell about it. I really enjoyed the twist of a ghost hunter that knows she is a fake even though her customers may not. I also enjoyed the way this character evolved throughout the story. We learn why she has this job. People will pay exorbitant amounts of money to have “ghosts” removed from their lives and she has a very good reason for needing the money. A strong woman with fantastic observation skills that has not had an easy life, but still has a great sense of humor. She also has a connection, a secret, something I truly appreciated. Enter Nicholas Hartford III who has his own motives for employing Ellis’s services. This character made me feel a gambit of emotions as the story continued. His mother was a very interesting character and at times made me laugh out loud. The rest of the supporting characters are all cleverly created and help to take this mystery through many twists and turns. The castle is a fun setting for the book. The staircases, hidden spaces, long hallways, rooms, and gardens all have a truly creepy feel. The story unfolds at a perfect pace and like our protagonist has many layers. The story was much more than I expected and was full of surprises. Especially the very end. So much happens within the pages and I found myself slowing down to savor the story to be sure I did not miss a single thing. At points the word that popped into my head was mayhem. I learned quickly to really expect the unexpected. This time a cat plays a crucial role. A cat we didn’t even meet until we were well into this story. I was surprised by how much I came to care about Ellie and her sister Winnie. Her brother played a part too, but I was very attuned to the sisters. If you love mysteries cozy or traditional this is a fun read you really need to pick up today. It is really different from the usual cozies I read. I am very excited about this series and where the author will take Ellie next after the way the book concluded. Potions Are for Pushovers will be released next December. I hate having to wait that long but if this story was any indication it will be well worth the wait.
This is one of the best cozies I have read! I had my doubts at first because initially the main character, Eleanor, came off as a bit unlikable for a cozy character. She is a psychic swindler with some harsh world views, but as the story progresses the author adds layers and complexities to Ellie. She quickly becomes quite relatable. She is devoted, intelligent and making the best out of the cards life has dealt her. Rarely are main characters painted with so many layers in a cozy mystery. The mystery unfolded seamlessly and the twists and turns kept coming. I looked forward to picking the book back up every time I was forced to set it down. Five sta
Ellie Wilde is a ghost hunter, realist, and triplet. While she doesn’t truly believe in ghosts, the service she provides “Cleanses” homes of ghosts and brings peace to families who have been living with them. After all, Ellie’s always been able to find what’s causing the supposed hauntings and sets them right, all while putting on a good show. While her brother doesn’t agree with her line of work, it pays the bills, particularly the medical care that their sibling who is in a coma requires. When Nicholas Hartford III, as much of a skeptic as Ellie when it comes to the supernatural, hires Madame Eleanor to rid his family estate of a ghost, things turn deadly. While Ellie finds herself taking a shine to the family, whomever is playing ghost is putting Ellie in danger…and she’s far from home in a foreign country. I loved the author’s portrayal of Ellie. The way she speaks and carries herself is real and relatable. The final reveal will surely surprise you! A fun new series that I look forward to following as Ellie and the crew move forward.
Eleanor (Ellie) Wilde has an interesting profession. She rids houses of ghosts. She is a ghost hunter. Some call her a medium others like her brother Liam call her a fake. Ellie Wilde is a fake ghost hunter, Thus begins the book Seances Are for Suckers by Tamara Berry. Ellie, who is the breadwinner of their small family...only because her brother Liam decided to go into a real profession as a teacher... financially supports their other sister Winnie, (they are triplets), who has been in a catatonic state since a terrible accident years ago. After her last exhausting exorcism Ellie is on her way to Mexico for some relaxation when she is hired by Nicholas Hartford a wealthy Englishman who flies her out to his ancestral estate in England to help his mother who believes there is a ghost (Xavier) whispering in her ear and wreaking havoc on the family, Estate life is not all that it is cut out to be as we see at the Hartford Estate. The place is cold, dark and falling apart. The family pinch pennies and food is a necessity not a luxury. But the sherry does flow freely! And needless to say there are a cast of characters; Vivian, the aged mother who hears but does not see Xavier the ghost, Rachel the niece a teenager who is virtually a shut in, Fern the sister of Nicholas whose beauty is truly superficial, Cal, Fern's wealthy boyfriend and of course, Thomas the butler/handyman. Things immediately begin to go bump in the night and mayhem ensues. All but Nicholas thinks she is a real ghost hunter. Ellie must use her "powers" to figure out just who is ghosting who and how. And just how many ghost could there possibly be? Anyone who enjoyed the Ellie Haskell series by Dorothy Cannell will enjoy this heartfelt, very funny quirky story with some romance and craziness thrown in. I hope this is the first in a series of Ellie Wilde books. I would rate it a 4 out of 5.
Séances are for Suckers is a humorous take on old school romantic mysteries like The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart. Ellie is the youngest of a set of triplets. On her eighteenth birthday, her mother is killed and her sister descends into a vegetative state. Her brother is an elementary school gym teacher. To earn the money for her sister’s long-term care, Ellie works as a fake medium. Ridding families of their ghosts frequently means more psychological than psychic assistance. When Nicholas approaches Ellie with a project, she can’t resist even though Nicholas knows she is a fake. He wants Ellie to prove to his elderly mother that her ghost, Xavier, is someone’s childish game. Once at the family’s ancient estate, Ellie suspects everyone including Nicholas of causing the ghostly events. It doesn’t help that Nicholas is devilishly handsome and apparently rich too. Plus there is the man-of-all-work, Thomas, who is equally handsome but so much less complicated than Nicholas. When Ellie literally stumbles over a corpse who is gone before she returns with help, Ellie begins to believe that this particular ghost may be real. I actually liked the romance more than the mystery. Like Ellie, I started to feel like part of the family and really wanted it not to be an intentional fake haunting for profit. Séances are for Suckers is a very enjoyable romantic read perfect for a cozy night in with only your cat (or dog, if you are one of those people) for company. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 stars! Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance copy.
You ever read a book not expecting anything, and you read it, and think “that wasn’t what I expected?” Well, this book was that for me. Don’t get me wrong, this book was well-written, fun, level-headed (you have to read it know what I mean), and was captivating. I love how even though Ellie is “tricking” people, she still tries to give people their money’s worth because she’s only doing this to take care of her sister, and people want to believe more in ghosts than real-life issues. I really, really enjoyed this book except for a little bit of confusion on my part at the end. I thought someone was the villain, and it turns out he wasn’t, but not in the way you’d expect which really threw me off at the end. This book was an unexpected surprise, and I can’t wait to read the next one in the series even though I’m not sure where we’ll go from the end of the book. Highly recommend this 4 1/2 star read! I was provided the e-book which I voluntarily reviewed.