Oct 29 2013 9:30am

Ghost Writing: Favorite Fictional Ghosts

Aunt Dimity's Death by Nancy AthertonI wrote a post a couple of years ago about my favorite ghostly romances, but there are other ghosts who have delighted this reader’s heart who are either not protagonists or not characters in romance fiction. Since I’m a wimpy reader, I like my ghosts benevolent, so there are no scary ghosts on my list.

1. Aunt Dimity’s Death (1992), Nancy Atherton

Nancy Atherton published the eighteenth book in her Aunt Dimity mystery series this year, but Aunt Dimity’s Death (1992) is the first and best (and one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries as selected by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association). American Lori Shepherd believes Aunt Dimity is a fictional character who lives only in the stories Lori’s mother told her. Lori is shocked when she receives a substantial inheritance from Dimity Westwood, but not nearly as shocked as she is when she arrives at Dimity’s English cottage to discover Dimity herself is still very much a presence there. She communicates with Lori by writing in a diary, an appropriate mode since Lori is charged with writing the Aunt Dimity stories her mother told her. As much love story as mystery, Lori finds her own soul mate and reunites Dimity with her lost love. Lori says of the stories she wrote, “I wrote of how vital it was to believe in the love offered by an honest heart, no matter how impractical or absurd or fearful the circumstances.”

2. “Three Wise Ghosts,” by Lynn Kurland in Christmas Spirits (1997)

Kurland’s three Boar’s Head ghosts appear in several of her MacLeod/de Piaget stories, but it is in this brief Christmas novella that they are introduced. Ambrose MacLeod, sixteenth-century Laird of the Clan MacLeod; his distant cousin Hugh McKinnon, former Laird of the Clan McKinnon; and Ambrose’s brother-in-law Fulbert de Piaget, second son of the fourteenth Earl of Artane, three unlikely matchmakers meet at the Boar’s Head Inn to bring together two of their twentieth-century descendants—Megan MacLeod McKinnon, an American Jill-of-all trades, and the Honorable Gideon de Piaget, president and CEO of Artane Enterprises. The romance is sweet and funny, but the curmudgeonly ghosts, particular Ambrose, steal the show with their bickering and broad humor. This is a slight story but it never fails to make me laugh.

Ghost at Work by Carolyn Hart3. Ghost at Work (2008), Carolyn Hart

Award-winning author of several popular mystery series, including the Death on Demand Bookstore series featuring Annie and Max Darling, Carolyn Hart introduced a new series five years ago with Bailey Ruth Raeburn as the ghostly sleuth. Bailey Ruth has been a celestial resident for some time and is eager to find something to do. Volunteering with the Department of Good Intentions, she is sent via the Rescue Express to her hometown Adelaide, Oklahoma, to help Kathleen Abbot, the rector’s wife, who has discovered a dead man on her porch just before Halloween. Bailey Ruth is often in violation of the Precepts for Earthly Visitation, but she not only finds the killer, she also helps to restore domestic harmony to the rector’s household. Cozy and charming, the story gives readers an emissary (the proper name for heavenly spirits on earthly visits) who enjoys her food and fashion as she solves the mystery.

4. Ghost a la Mode (2009), Sue Anne Jaffarian

Ish Reynolds (aka Granny Apples), a 19th-century woman famed for her apple pies, was hanged by vigilantes for the murder of her husband. More than a century later, Ish’s great-great-great-granddaughter, Emma Whitecastle, is in the process of divorcing her husband, “the shock jock of daytime talk shows,” and viewing her daughter’s approaching departure for Harvard with mixed emotions. Emma needs a new focus for her life. The ghost of Granny Apples asks for her help in proving that Ish did not murder her husband Jacob. Ish is just the first of several ghosts Emma will meet as she moves to Julian, a historic mining town near San Diego, California, to research Ish's story. The very much alive Phil Bower, a rancher and lawyer who is the current owner of the land that once belonged to Ish, gives Emma a new romantic focus. A little bit women’s fiction, a little bit ghost story, a little bit mystery, and a little bit romance, the first book in Jaffarian’s Granny Apples series is wholly delightful.

Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas5. Dream Lake (2012), Lisa Kleypas

Tom Findlay, a World War II pilot who was killed when his plane was downed, is the amnesiac ghost who haunts the hero Alex Nolan in Kleypas’s third Friday Harbor book. Tom’s search for his identity and his longing to be reunited with his beloved, the heroine’s grandmother, add a poignancy to the story that at times overshadows the primary romance. However, Tom is definitely not a cozy ghost. He can be quite acerbic. When Alex questions him about angelic status, Tom growls, “Do you see any wings?” Yet he is also a true romantic. When Alex mocks the idea of soul mates, Tom describes finding one’s soul mate: “It's like your whole life you’ve been falling toward the earth, until the moment someone catches you. And you realize that somehow you’ve caught her at the same time. And together, instead of falling, you might be able to fly.”

So come October 31, those who like them are welcome to read the books of their choice filled with witches, weres, ghosts with malevolent intent, and things that go bump in the night. I’ll stick with my friendly ghosts—and I don’t mean Casper. No nightmare for me. My rereading will assure me of sweet dreams.


Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.

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1. Scarlettleigh
I am a wimpy reading too, but during my teens I devoured books by Barbara Michaels - aka Elizabeth Peters. Of course not all her ghosts were benevolent but her stories didn't scare me. The first book I remember reading of hers was Ammie Come Home.
2. keen23
I just found the Aunt Dimity series this year. It's pretty cute. The only thing that bugs me is the use of the stuffed animals. Everything else is good. But the stuffed animals are kind of creepy (ironically, I don't mind that dead Aunt Dimity "talks" through the diary), especially when a 30+ year old woman is dragging around a stuffed pink rabbit.
3. Janga
@Scarlettleigh, I read Barbara Michaels's books when I was younger, and Ammie, Come Home was a favorite. I agree that hers were just scary enough to be fun but not really frightening.
4. Janga
@keen23, I'm rather fond of Reginald, but that's probably because an orange bunny named Flannery lives on my desk. I see Lori as a kindred spirit. :)
Lori K
5. LoriK
I'm fond of Jack Shepard, the ghostly hard boiled private eye in the Haunted Bookshop series by Alice Kimberly. Jack was a 1940s PI who was murdered while on a case and is stuck haunting the building where he died, which is now a mystery bookshop run by Penelope McClure & her aunt. Pen is the only one who can see or hear Jack. He helps her solve mysteries and she tries to help him figure out how he ended up dead.

Note: The 6th book in the series has been promised for a long time, but still hasn't been published. The authors swear it's coming, but who knows when that will happen.
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