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Don of the Dead: A Pepper Martin Mystery    by Casey Daniels order for
Don of the Dead
by Casey Daniels
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Belle Dessler

With the support of her wealthy parents, Pepper Martin has lived a charmed life. She has a college degree, but it's not as though she planned to ever put it to use. College netted her a wealthy fiancé, and Pepper knew she'd never have to work a day in her life. But that was before her surgeon father was convicted of fraud, her mother moved away, and her fiancé dumped her in a flash. Now, for the first time in her life, Pepper must work for a living. With no experience to put on her resumé, she lands a job as a tour guide at Garden View Cemetery.

An unlucky fall causes Pepper to hit her head on gravestone, leaving her with more than a headache to show for it. When the ghost of the long-departed Gus Scarpetti - who in life was head of one of the largest crime families in Cleveland - begins to speak to her, she thinks she's lost her mind. But before she knows it, Pepper is involved in solving a decades-old mystery that leads her to rub elbows with some of the most dangerous men alive ... and dead.

It's not often that I run across a book with a unique premise, but Don of the Dead meets that criteria. Solving a decades-old crime may not be a new theme in novels, but doing it alongside a dead mobster certainly adds a new twist. Gus is as irreverent and determined in death as he must have been in life, and he causes no end of grief for poor Pepper, who suddenly not only has to learn to stand on her own two feet, but has to live long enough to truly grow up. The heroine herself is tremendously likeable. She deals with the problems thrown at her as any woman would: with tenacity, courage and a dash of flirtation. She uses every skill and talent at her disposal to get what she wants, even if that means showing a bit of cleavage, while stunning people with her quick wit and intellect.

My only complaint about this charming book is that the author introduces two possible love interests for Pepper, but we never get to know either one well enough to care about them. Their storylines are also left dangling at the end of the book, obviously setting the stage for more Pepper Martin mysteries to come. Readers who crave closure will be disappointed by the story's abrupt ending. However, the possibility of more in the series gives us something to anticipate. As unexpectedly funny as it is genuinely captivating, this novel is sure to appeal to fans of mystery, romance, chick lit and paranormal novels alike.

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