The 20 novels combine brilliant, Agatha Christie-style plotting with acute examinations of human psychology — i.e. the stress of ordinary people who find themselves pulled into criminal investigations.
Although Hart is sometimes lumped in the “cozy” mystery category — her stories are not dripping in blood or profanity — she prefers the label “traditional mystery.”
There is nothing “cozy” about a realistically presented murder and its impact on the survivors’ lives (and that of whoever the wily perp might be). And yet, Hart presents an unfailingly hopeful portrait of humanity in which the crimes are solved and the evildoers are caught.
A few years ago, Hart launched a new series with a new protagonist — Bailey Ruth Raeburn — who happens to be dead.
When I first heard about the series I wondered if even a writer as skilled as Carolyn Hart would be able to pull off whodunits in which the crime solver is deceased, but “Ghost at Work,” “Merry, Merry Ghost” and the new “Ghost in Trouble” (William Morrow) uphold the novelist’s high standards.
The Bailey Ruth stories play with the form of crime fiction in a delightful manner, allowing Hart to add amusing supernatural elements to the sharp plotting and social observation in her other novels.
In the three stories so far, Bailey Ruth has been sent back to her own home town of Adelaide, Oklahoma, to protect people facing serious dangers. As much as Bailey Ruth loves being with her husband in Heaven — which is rendered in wry detail by Hart — she is thrilled to be able to return to a beloved place where she had a very good life.
A premise that might sound rather twee — as the Brits would say — has enabled Hart to add hefty dollops of “Topper” and “Heaven Can Wait” to the screwball supernatural humor the author finds in Bailey Ruth’s visits to Oklahoma.
“Ghost in Trouble” assigns Bailey Ruth to a case that starts out on a nasty foot — she has to protect a woman who never liked her when she was alive — but we are quickly drawn into a complicated mystery involving a very wealthy family in Adelaide and an “accident” in their mansion that was more likely a premeditated murder.
The joy Bailey Ruth finds in her brief returns to the everyday life of Adelaide — relishing things she took for granted while she lived there, like an especially tasty hamburger! — makes it clear that Hart sees the best parts of our earthly existence as a preview of what we will find in the hereafter.