Keeper of the Castle (Haunted Home Renovation)

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9780451465801: Keeper of the Castle (Haunted Home Renovation)
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In the latest Haunted Home Renovation mystery from New York Times bestselling author Juliet Blackwell, San Francisco contractorand reluctant ghostbusterMel Turner gets hired for a job that's to die for.

Lately, Mel has been worried about finding enough historic renovation work to pay the bills. But while Turner Construction is in need of a project, Mel’s boyfriend, Graham, has his hands full managing the reconstruction of an ancient building shipped over from Scotland.
 
With the job plagued by rumors that the stones are cursed, Graham brings in Mel to look for paranormal activity. And while the ghost of a charming Scottish clansman does seem to be hanging around the site, the real shock comes when they stumble upon a body.
 
When the original construction crew starts running scared, Mel brings in her team to finish the job. Now all she has to do is nail down the killer, and put the spirits to rest, before anyone else winds up heading for the highlands...

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About the Author:

Juliet Blackwell is the pseudonym for the New York Times bestselling mystery author who also writes the Witchcraft Mystery series and, together with her sister, wrote the Art Lover’s Mystery series as Hailey Lind. The first in that series, Feint of Art, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. As owner of her own faux-finish and design studio, the author has spent many days and nights on construction sites renovating beautiful historic homes throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. She currently resides in a happily haunted house in Oakland, California.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS
OF NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR
JULIET BLACKWELL

ALSO BY JULIET BLACKWELL

OBSIDIAN

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

Communicating with the netherworld can be a game changer.

For instance, I never used to believe in bad omens. But ever since I started encountering ghosts on my construction sites, I’d become more open-minded.

And it was clear that the Wakefield project was cursed.

It had been plagued with ill portents from the get-go: Two well-respected general contractors had walked off the job; sign-waving protesters blocked the tall iron gates to the property; there had been a series of suspicious building mishaps; and the big, burly, and typically fearless construction workers—those who remained on the job, anyway—refused to linger at the site after sundown. I wouldn’t have been surprised to note a line of crows perched nearby, or a ring around the moon, or some other sign of disaster ahead.

Luckily, this wasn’t my jobsite.

“Coffee?” offered Graham.

“I thought you’d never ask.”

I had driven to Marin County, north of San Francisco, bright and early today only because a very attractive man had asked for my help. Tall and broad-shouldered, with the cut physique of a man who worked with his muscles, Graham Donovan had a way of making me forget that, when it came to romance, I was a battle-scarred cynic.

Adding to his many charms, the green-building-consultant-to-the-stars also happened to be in possession of a thermos of piping-hot, dark French roast.

Besides . . . I was just plain curious: Why would someone dismantle an ancient Scottish monastery, ship it overseas stone by stone, and try to reconstruct it as a retreat center in California?

Graham poured coffee into a small tin cup and handed it to me. Graceful tendrils of steam rose in the damp early-morning air, the rich aroma mingling with the pungent scents of eucalyptus and dried grasses. The day was just dawning, and we stood alone on the hill. My mutt, named Dog, loped around, sniffing the ground and wagging his shaggy brown tail.

“I’ll say this much for your client: He chose an amazing site,” I said. “It’s almost . . . magical.”

A gently sloping meadow surrounded by lush forest opened onto a view of the faraway Pacific Ocean. Behind us was a gorgeous old Victorian manse; below us was the jobsite, where stones lay in piles or stacked to form partially built walls, as though a fourteenth-century Gothic ruin had materialized right here, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“That’s the to-be-assembled pile,” said Graham, gesturing to a massive mound. Bright blue chalk marks—which I knew corresponded to a coded schema intricate enough to drive a Rubik’s Cube expert nuts—stood out from the dirt, lichen, and moss clinging to the rough-hewn stones. Carved pieces were scattered among the rectangular blocks: Some were components of columns and vaults, others crude gargoyles and decorative plaques.

“Okeydokey,” I said, sipping my coffee. “Would those be the suspicious ghost-encrusted stones, then?”

“I get the sense you’re not taking this seriously,” said Graham.

“They look perfectly innocent to me. Frankly, I’d worry more about spiders than ghosts.”

“Some tough ghost buster you are, scared of a few tiny little spiders.”

“First off, I have never claimed to be a tough ghost buster. Not even an official ghost buster, really. And I’m not scared of spiders per se. But you know how this sort of thing goes: A couple teensy arachnids hitch a ride to America, and next thing you know, they end up devastating California’s citrus groves.”

Graham smiled. “I’ve always admired your sunny outlook.”

“I’m a native; I think about such things,” I said. “Look what happened with William Randolph Hearst: He imported zebras to roam the grounds of his ‘Castle’ decades ago, and his rancher neighbors are still dealing with them.”

“What have they got against zebras?”

“Turns out zebras are rather foul-tempered. Or maybe they’re just grumpy about being displaced from their natural habitat. My point is, I’m not sure bazillionaires should be allowed to just import whatever they want, willy-nilly. It’s asking for trouble.”

“Which brings us back to ghosts. It’s gotten so bad the men won’t go into the building once the sun goes down.”

“Ancient stones like these, in a setting like this. Throw in a little fog and a moonless night . . . Could be people’s imaginations are running away with them.”

“Could be. But I think there’s more to it. You know I don’t say this easily, Mel, but I’ve seen a few odd goings-on, myself.”

“You really think your client imported a ghost along with these stones?”

“Maybe. Is that possible?”

“I’m not sure. I would have thought a ghost would have remained with the land. But, frankly, I probably know more about spiders than the intricacies of ghost immigration. I’ll have to look into it. Does your client have a particular affinity with Scotland? ‘Ellis Elrich’ doesn’t sound Scottish.”

“I’m not sure,” said Graham. “You could ask him tonight. We’re invited to his ‘sherry hour.’”

“I’m not a big fan of sherry.”

“It’s just what he calls it. There will be other drinks available.”

“Then why call it sherry hour?”

A slow smile spread across Graham’s face, and he reached out to pull on a corkscrew curl that had freed itself of my serviceable ponytail.

“I do love your curious mind,” he said.

“Curious in the sense that I always look for answers? Or in the sense that I’m strange?”

“Why limit ourselves to only one interpretation?”

I couldn’t help but return his smile. After a few years of bitter sniping about men in general, and my romantic prospects in particular, I had been mellowing. Graham was helping me to regain my sense of humor.

“Anyway,” I said, getting back on track. “I don’t really feel like going to sherry hour. The man’s not my client, after all.”

“Perhaps we could change that.”

“Yeah, about that: The whole project sounds like nothing but trouble to me.”

“Mel, look at the big picture: Elrich is willing to spend a lot of money on this project. How often does a job of this scope and complexity come along that will implement cutting-edge green building techniques?”

“Not often,” I conceded. And it was true that Turner Construction needed work. The high-end historic-home- renovation business in the San Francisco Bay Area had taken a nosedive in the past few months, and while I had so far managed to keep my workers gainfully employed finishing up some residential projects, the principals of Turner Construction—my dad, our friend and office manager, Stan, and I—had been forced to skip a few paychecks.

We were in dire need of a new client. An important client. The deeper the pockets, the better. But still . . . I’d already faced enough ill omens for one lifetime. I had been hoping to find a nice, quiet, non-ghost-laden building somewhere to renovate.

“And you’re the only builder I know with ghost experience,” Graham continued.

“I wouldn’t be so sure. The builders who ran screaming from this jobsite experienced some ghosts. They just didn’t want to admit it.”

While we were talking, workmen had started trickling onto the jobsite, arriving in beat-up Jeeps, muddy Toyotas, and full-sized Ford pickups, a few with grinning dogs in the passenger’s seat. Many were Latino, some of whom, I imagined, spoke little English. The rest were a mix of whites, blacks, and a few Asians. They toted lunch boxes, big thermoses of coffee or tea, and carried hard hats tucked under brawny arms. I admired these men—like my dad, they showed up every day, worked an honest eight hours, and built our homes and communities.

One man in jeans, boots, and a plaid jacket made a beeline for us.

“Here’s Pete now. He’s been running the job,” Graham said.

Dog let out a welcoming “woof,” wagged his tail, and presented himself for a petting.

“Pete, I’d like you to meet Mel Turner, the general director of Turner Construction.”

Pete had the ropy muscles common to those who spent their lives on jobsites, but his slightly batty, wide-open eyes and blond hair, worn long and frizzy, lent him a crazy-professor vibe. A knowledgeable foreman was worth his weight in gold and was allowed to push the conventions a little. Construction tended to attract offbeat personalities—like me. It was one of the reasons I liked the business so much: I met a lot of real characters.

On the other hand, construction also attracted a lot of people with criminal records. Perhaps that was no coincidence.

“Heck of a nice thing to meet you, Mel,” Pete said. “I’ve heard a lot about you. You’re the ghost gal, right?”

“I’m . . . uh . . . Sure. Yep,” I stumbled. “That’s what they call me, the ‘ghost gal.’”

Graham winced.

“Here’s the situation,” said Pete with a nod. “A lot of folks in this business, well, I don’t gotta tell you that they don’t care much for woo-woo talk. And I don’t either, to tell the truth. But what can I say? I can’t deny something’s going on, and it’s interfering with getting this building done.”

“And what might that be?”

“There’s a . . . a something. An apparition, I guess it’s called. At the back of the sacristy. He’s got a, uh—What’s that really big sword called? Real broad?”

“A broadsword?”

“That’s right! He’s chased out more than one crew, swingin’ that thing. These are good men, Mel. They don’t scare easy. Also, the folks up at the house have seen lights on down here at night when there shouldn’t be, and sometimes there’s music.”

“Speaking as a professional . . . ,” I said. “That sounds like ghostly behavior to me. It surely does.”

Graham gave me a dirty look.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Well, there is that, uh, red thing.”

“There’s something red?”

“It’s . . . well . . .” Pete’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “Some of the guys think they’ve heard a woman in there somewhere. They go in to look around, and . . . they end up staggering out of there, crying.”

“Crying?”

“I swear, they come out, sit down right on the ground, and sob like their dog died. I tell you what: That’s a little, whaddayacallit, disconcerting.”

“How do they describe it?”

“Like I said, it’s . . . red.”

“What else?” I knew from experience that folks who’d had an encounter of the ghostly kind were often unwilling to relate all the details, for fear of sounding foolish. I had learned to be patient.

Pete shrugged.

“Just to clarify—they haven’t seen any fireballs, have they? I mean, we’re not talking dragons here, right?”

I didn’t have to look to know they were both gaping at me. People come to me begging for help, but when I ask a few simple clarifying questions, they act like I’m making it all up.

“Dragons are a stretch, it’s true, but you were talking about a man with a broadsword. According to ancient lore, that could be a knight out to slay a dragon. Dragons breathe red fire.” I shrugged. “Just a thought.”

“Maybe we should get back to the construction issues.” Graham turned to address Pete. “Mel was wondering how you’re getting around the local codes.”

“I’m surprised to see unreinforced masonry in earthquake country,” I clarified.

“Ah, but it’s not unreinforced,” said Pete. “That’s one of the reasons it’s taking so long. We’re drilling through each stone to insert rebar. Let me show you.”

We walked over to a pile of stones near some heavy equipment, including a massive drill.

“Clever,” I said as I inspected the process. “But it seems a shame to alter the ancient stones at all.”

“I hear you. Ellis—uh, Mr. Elrich—has been adamant on this point: We’re to do the least damage possible, even if it takes extra time and money. We’ve got an army of stonecutters on-site—from Mexico and Europe, mostly. There aren’t enough locals with this kind of specialized knowledge of masonry. The master stonemason is from Poland.”

I nodded. It was common in historic restoration to employ master artisans from Latin America or Europe. Most construction in the United States was of recent origin and utilized new materials and new methods. Proper historic renovation construction required traditional skills and techniques.

“And the rebar reinforcement will pass code?”

I noticed Pete and Graham exchange a glance. Finally, Graham spoke.

“The county inspectors—all except one—have been cooperative. Wakefield will be a pilot project for the inclusion of green techniques in building. The county commissioners figure if the techniques can be folded into such an ambitious project gracefully, they will be able to convince other builders to follow suit.”

“Makes sense,” I said. “It would be great to make this sort of thing a priority—good for the local guys for supporting it.”

“As for the rest . . . ,” Pete said. “Well, I don’t ask too many questions. Elrich seems to have a way of getting things done.”

Pete’s smiling, easygoing facade fell away. I followed his gaze to a red-faced man hurrying toward us, huffing from the effort. Dressed in a three-piece suit, a white shirt, and shiny black shoes, the man was overweight and jowly. He carried a clipboard in one hand and a black computer case in the other, and he did not look happy.

“Who’s that?” I whispered.

“Larry McCall,” said Graham. “County building inspector.”

“Damned thorn in my side, is what he is,” grumbled Pete.

Mr. Nolan,” shouted McCall. “A word with you, if I may.”

“You’re not supposed to drop in unannounced, Mr. McCall,” Pete replied.

“I’ll drop in anytime I see fit,” McCall retorted, scowling. “Just because Mr. Elrich considers himself above the law doesn’t mean I’m willing to go along with it. I’ll sign off on the preliminary inspection when I think it appropriate, and not one moment sooner. This project is not adequately reinforced, as you know very well.”

“As you know very well,” Pete said, “we’ve experienced some setbacks. We’re addressing them as fast as we can. It just so happens we’ve brought in a new consultant, someone experienced in this sort of building.”

Three sets of male eyes turned to me. Only then did I realize Pete was talking about me.

“I . . . uh, yes. Yes, indeed. I’m here to make sure things are done right and proper. Wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s me.”

There’s an informal code among builders that says inspectors are the enemy. We know full well that a good building inspector can improve public health and safety, foresee problems down the line, and even save lives. I, for one, follow building codes with a religious devotion. Still, when it comes to dealing with inspectors while on the job, builders maintain a united front. If we agree something is wrong, we’ll fix it just as soon as Mr. Snoopy leaves the jobsite.

“Who might you be, may I ask?” Larry McCall demanded.

“...

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Book Description Berkley Books, 2014. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the latest Haunted Home Renovation mystery from New York Times bestselling author Juliet Blackwell, San Francisco contractor--and reluctant ghostbuster--Mel Turner gets hired for a job that s to die for. Lately, Mel has been worried about finding enough historic renovation work to pay the bills. But while Turner Construction is in need of a project, Mel s boyfriend, Graham, has his hands full managing the reconstruction of an ancient building shipped over from Scotland. With the job plagued by rumors that the stones are cursed, Graham brings in Mel to look for paranormal activity. And while the ghost of a charming Scottish clansman does seem to be hanging around the site, the real shock comes when they stumble upon a body. When the original construction crew starts running scared, Mel brings in her team to finish the job. Now all she has to do is nail down the killer, and put the spirits to rest, before anyone else winds up heading for the highlands. Seller Inventory # AAS9780451465801

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Book Description Berkley Books, 2014. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the latest Haunted Home Renovation mystery from New York Times bestselling author Juliet Blackwell, San Francisco contractor--and reluctant ghostbuster--Mel Turner gets hired for a job that s to die for. Lately, Mel has been worried about finding enough historic renovation work to pay the bills. But while Turner Construction is in need of a project, Mel s boyfriend, Graham, has his hands full managing the reconstruction of an ancient building shipped over from Scotland. With the job plagued by rumors that the stones are cursed, Graham brings in Mel to look for paranormal activity. And while the ghost of a charming Scottish clansman does seem to be hanging around the site, the real shock comes when they stumble upon a body. When the original construction crew starts running scared, Mel brings in her team to finish the job. Now all she has to do is nail down the killer, and put the spirits to rest, before anyone else winds up heading for the highlands. Seller Inventory # AAS9780451465801

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