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By Amy Reade
Publisher: Kensington Books
Publication Date: 4/28/2015
My Rating: 3 Stars
A special thank you to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
THE GHOSTS OF PEPPERNELL MANOR, by Amy Reade is a light contemporary mystery suspense with a mix of historic flair, design, and heavy southern family drama.
As the novel opens, readers get a quick glimpse in the prologue of Sarah a fifteen year old slave, requested to stay late in order to take care of Philip and Gertie (owner’s children) during a party held in the grand ballroom at the main house, hosted by mistress of the manor, Mrs. Violet Peppernell- The Peppernell Manor Plantation, outside Charleston, SC. Sarah wanted to go home to see her daddy, who would be leaving the following day. After the kids are put to bed, she began wondering what was happening at home in the slave cabins adjacent to the manor. She was going to miss her daddy—he would be sold off at an auction as a slave the following day. However, he never makes it to the next day, committing suicide just minutes prior to Sarah’s arrival.
Next we flash to the present, as Carleigh Warner, and her young daughter, Lucy are driving from Chicago to Charleston on the back roads admiring the beautiful Spanish moss and the Lowcountry, as they make their way to Peppernell Manor. A college friend Evie, and her family has owned the manor for generations. Having visited there many times during her college years —Carleigh always loved the antebellum mansion.
She jumped at the chance when the Peppernells decided to offer her the renovation job, as the owner of a successful restoration firm in Chicago. As a lover of art, Carleigh appreciated the property’s graceful architecture and its romance; however, as a history major, she was more interested in the home’s past as a plantation house. She was returning for the first time with her daughter. At the time Carleigh was not sure she could leave her business of Warner Restorations, nor was she sure her ex-husband, Brad would allow her to bring Lucy along for this job in SC. However he agreed with the promise of frequent visits.
They arrive at the stunning manor house, of Federalist architecture with a large veranda and years of neglect. Evie her old college friend is there with her grandmother Cora-Camille Chadwick-Peppernell -- all of her sweet Southern drawl, southern foods, and hospitality.
As the book moves on we meet the family: Evie’s parents, Graydon and Vivian, her twin brothers, Heath and Harlan, her aunt Ruby (Cora-Camille’s daughter) who suffers from anxiety issues and takes care of the baking, and Phyllis, house manager who takes care of the rest of the cooking. Evie (does not add anything to the novel) lives in Atlanta and her boyfriend has business out of the country, so she plans on working remotely here at the manor, to spend time with her college friend. Phyllis is the (5 great) granddaughter of Sarah, one of the slaves who worked on the plantation years ago. She also talks to Sarah (a ghost daily), however we never hear the actual conversations.
As they toured the grounds, Carleigh remembered Peppernell Manor had been home to slaves before the Civil War; however, seeing the cabins, made it more real. She would love to restore the cabins and their historic nature; however, Phyllis disagrees.
There is much controversy surrounding the renovation and its future. Harlan the son, a real estate developer would like for a group of investors to finance the renovation and make the home a tourist destination for SC, demolish the slave cabins and build a gift shop. His mother Vivian (not a nice person) agrees. However, Cora wants to keep the home in the family, and wants to use her own money for the renovation in order to restore the old home place to its original grand splendor, before she dies.
Grayndon, Heath, Ruby, Evie, and Carleigh are pretty much on the same side as want to renovate and keep in the family to please the grandmother. There are many secondary characters, and disruptions, such as Brad, (Carleigh’s) ex-husband from Chicago, and Ophelia (Health’s crazy ex-wife), Carleigh’s parents in Florida, a stray dog named Addie, an alligator, and a hurricane.
Carleigh is busy with the renovation and falling for the brother, while receiving threatening phone calls and someone running her off the road, telling her to leave, plus someone is vandalizing her design work in the main house. She is afraid for her daughter’s life and herself. In addition, the grandmother dies of heart failure and they find out she was poisoned, causing her sickness. Oh, and three murders total before the book ends. (the police visit so many times they probably think this place is nuts).
Summary: Having viewed different reviews of the novel, I will have to agree, this is not a ghost book. In fact we never hear from a ghost, nor see one, so unsure why the title, which is misleading. Phyllis mentions Sarah which is a former slave but nothing more.
A native of the Carolinas, and lover of its history and architecture, I was all set for a good southern historic mystery with a design twist. Yes, I enjoyed the mentions of Charleston, as have spent much time there, with a few hotel clients in Charleston, so very familiar with all the landmarks and city. However, with the opening pages of Sarah the slave, would have been a nice tie in to revisit Sarah, the past, and connect the two storylines between Phyllis and Sarah for a powerful story. Never happened.
The novel was more of a chicklit, southern family drama and a romance. The story did not reference anything in the past, it was all present. Yes, there was mention of the slaves and Sarah, but this was about the extent. Some aspects of mystery, with a "whodunit" of three family murders. However, with three family members dead, they did not seem to mourn or grieve, just worried about how to decorate for a party, or design the house???
As far as the renovation, was hoping for more of a Wendy Wax (design teams), or a Karen White (southern ghost historic fiction); however, not either. Being in the design business, one girl cannot complete a design project of this size; there was no mention of design teams or a general contractor--seemed very unrealistic. All the other drama seemed a little disjointed.
If you are looking for a southern historic fiction, or a ghost story, this would not be the book. However, if you are looking for a light mystery whodunit, and a LOT of family drama, you may enjoy. Even though I was slightly entertained, the novel could have been so much more, as a good set up. Drama wrapped up with a tidy bow at the end; being somewhat generous with a three star rating.