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Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 12:10 am

Funny murder mystery

For a good holiday read, curl up with Mrs. Modine

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Mrs. Modine and the Case of the Haunted Halloween Séance. By D. Ann Johnson. ISBN 9781517140434. 206 pages. Available on Amazon or CreateSpace.

Want to cozy up with a good mystery over the holidays? Meet Mrs. Modine! She’s a mature widow with a snoopy disposition and is the creation of Dency Grubbs, a Decatur author who graduated from Sangamon State University (now University of Illinois Springfield) and teaches English at Lincoln Land Community College. D. Ann Johnson is her pseudonym. Dency is writing a series, “The Calendar Mysteries.” The first, The Case of the Labor Day Love Affair Murder is already published; Séance takes on the second month. Sure, Halloween is over, but haunting is never out of date. The titles warn you these books are funny.

As we begin, Mrs. Modine, grocery shopping, spots an ex (sort of) – an FBI agent with whom she’s had a flirtation. Max comes in with a good-looking woman on his arm. Our heroine scurries to the produce aisle and engages a total stranger in a bit of duplicity. She introduces the produce guy to her sort-of ex, as the man she’s dating currently. Formalities over, the stranger turns out to be an interesting fellow – a doctor, a Mormon and the offspring of a plural marriage, which is a lot to learn in a produce aisle. His name is Patrick. They part company cordially.

 Back at her duplex, Mrs. Modine is invited by her neighbor, Avery, to accompany him to a small town near St. Louis, billed as “The Most Haunted Town in America.” She’d rather attend the Covered Bridge Festival, but grudgingly agrees when Avery promises they’ll do both. They join a busload of excited travelers all going to Rosemond to stay at the haunted Richter Mansion. The plot thickens when she finds both Patrick, and Max and his attractive woman friend, are also on board. Thus Mrs. Modine has two potential love interests and one rival. At the mansion she discovers she has psychic abilities which don’t help much with romance. She “sees” Max and his friend in the “throes of passion – possibly scenes that involve fishnet stockings with black garters and whipped cream.” On the first night the hostess announces there will be “first circle communication with the dead followed by a light dinner.” As the mystery progresses, we find Mrs. Modine to be a well-developed character. She’s human; it’s easy to like her and identify with her plight.

 These days, unless you’re writing about vampires or already have a well-known name, finding a publisher is a long shot. However, when self-publishing, it’s hard to avoid some missteps. You’ll find a few here. In addition, there are a lot of characters; you’ll be busy keeping track of them all – as is Mrs. Modine. But Haunted Halloween is not vying for a Pulitzer. It’s a fun read. Also, this isn’t a tale aimed at teens but for the baby-boomer generation. Mrs. Modine would probably object to my telling her age, but trust me, it’s over 49. She’s at her best when snooping around in the middle of the night and scaring herself so thoroughly that she can’t sleep in her room alone. From the time our detective is shown to the “Edgar Allen Poe” room until the FBI closes in (yes, there’s a murder), we find lots of suspense, from séances to secret passages. There’s also plenty of humor, which is this author’s strength. Does Mrs. Modine ever get to the Covered Bridge Festival? Well, maybe in the next Calendar novel. We’ll look forward to it.

Martha Miller is the author of six published novels, the most recent is Widow, a Bertha Brannon Mystery. She teaches at Lincoln Land Community College.

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