Fans of Cannell's previous Ellie Haskell mysteries will not be disappointed with this one, which retains the author's sparkling humor and penchant for off-beat characters. Ellie, now a mother of three, sends her family off on holiday so she can finally tend to decorating their castle (the one she inherited, you recall, from her wacky Fester-ish uncle). But before she can pick up a paintbrush, she receives a letter from "the bridesmaids," three ladies who had been friends of her grandmother Sophia's. They claim that Sophia has a message for Ellie--the problem being that Sophia has been dead for half a century. Ellie visits the bridesmaids, and comes to realize that one among the slightly dotty trio may turn out be a murderess.

Several of the mystery's plot devices will be familiar to Cannell addicts: old family skeletons come to light, a hilarious gothic-novel-within-a-novel caricatures both "Jane Eyre" and "Rebecca," and at least one character turns out to have a long-lost twin.

But Cannell also tackles new Spiritualist ground here, undertaking themes of ghostly emanations, seances, and conjurings. (The bridesmaids feel a tad uneasy about invoking Sophia's spirit, and spend one very funny scene wondering if they should enhance their matronly attire with garlic necklaces or crucifixes.) Cannell effectively opens the door to the spirit world, and then gently closes it as the story's supernatural phenomena all turn out to have perfectly natural--albeit unlikely--explanations. She does leave the door just a tad ajar at the novel's close, acknowledging a spiritual "intuition" that remains unaccounted for. This mystery is rollicking good fun for a dark and stormy night.

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