(Presence Unknown, Paranormal Investigators, Book 1)
By Maia Strong
Todd’s familiar with ghosts. He already has one in his vintage VW Beetle, and another in his house that steals his spoons. When the spoons in his coffee shop also disappear, Todd is convinced to call Ben and Frieda from Presence Unknown, Paranormal Investigators. He’s not sure what he hopes they’ll find, and even feels a little silly about hiring them…until he meets Ben and is immediately smitten. Once the whole investigation is done, Todd plans to ask Ben out on a date. But when the ghostly encounters in Todd’s home turn malevolent and leave him quivering on the floor, his priorities shift from first-date possibilities to personal survival. Ben and Frieda have a plan that might work, but Todd will have to face his biggest fear and overcome his doubts if they are to have any chance at all of success.
Midnight Jones is a cozy paranormal mystery with totally likable and relatable main characters. Early chapters demonstrate the long-term friendships between Ben and Frieda, and between Todd and Mona. Comfortable banter between them felt authentic. I could easily believe in the strength and solidity of their connections. I get the distinct impression that the author is a baseball lover, since Frieda, Mona, and Todd are all big-time Mariner’s fans; while it isn’t a major plot point, one story detail that ties the various parts of the tale together is that the Mariner’s have—for the first time in years—made it into the playoffs and the characters’ joy was contagious. Even though I’m not a sports fan myself, I could feel their excitement in those scenes.
There is an undercurrent through most of the book of a romantic connection between Todd and Benn, which is thwarted by their professional relationship. Being able to see through both Todd’s and Ben’s points of view made it fun to read how they both stewed beneath the surface, wanting to reach out, but holding back anyway. That uncertainty, the self-doubt of tiptoeing around a potential new romantic interest is almost universal and made both characters even more endearing.
Mona and Frieda also won places in my heart – Mona for her intense sense of protection where her childhood friend Todd was concerned, and Frieda for her outspoken and witchy proclivities. While I feel like Todd and Ben were the main focus characters, both Frieda and Mona filled in any gaps and fleshed out the story quite nicely. Scenery and settings added to the already rich tapestry as well. The story takes place in Seattle, Washington, a place I’ve always wanted to visit, and now want to do so even more. No doubt the author’s love of her home city lent depth and sparkle to every scene.
But while the characters and scenery were awesome, it was the story itself that tied it all together. Who doesn’t love a great ghost story? Add to that the mystery of the multiple hauntings, the sudden turn from missing spoons to ghostly attacks in the middle of the night, and I found myself putting other tasks aside to make time for Midnight Jones. There’s no explicit violence or sex on the page, just a delightful mystery that left me feeling both warm and satisfied, while at the same time disappointed when the adventure was over.
Midnight Jones is book one in an ongoing series, each of which stands alone but all of which involve Ben and Frieda, and all of which are based on paranormal mysteries. The second book, The Fifth Door, is also out, and on my list of must-reads. Maia Strong has a winning combination here. If you love curling up with a great ghost story and a cup of tea or coffee – or maybe a beer – this book is for you.