Title: Billy Bean’s Ghost
Author: John York
Publisher: John R. York
Publication date: November 17, 2021
One Sentence Summary: While house-sitting, Billy Bean comes across a beautiful piano, but, when he starts playing it, he hears the voice of a ghost.
Billy Bean’s Ghost is a murder mystery involving a ghost and a house with secrets. At times, it really freaked me out, but I definitely scare far too easily. Woven through it is also a very sweet and delightfully awkward romance between two people who have no clue what they’re doing. The two parts really played off of each other well, and I really enjoyed the humor peppered throughout. It helped prevent this novel from becoming truly scary, and I definitely found myself smiling a few times. The inclusion of music was a really nice touch and I loved how it worked so well with everything else going on in the story. There are a lot of elements in Billy Bean’s Ghost, but they play off each other perfectly to create a fun story.
Billy Bean is a relatively nondescript bank teller whose life is all routine. The only thing that breaks up his days is the piano on the first floor of the house he is house sitting. There’s something odd about that first floor, but Billy was once a skilled pianist, and sighting the piano brings that yearning back to him. Until he starts to hear a voice asking for help. Thinking he’s crazy, Billy goes to a psychiatrist, a beautiful woman just as awkward as him named Abigale, inadvertently stumbling into a missing person’s case.
Billy Bean’s Ghost is a short, fast read laced with humor and starring two delightfully awkward adults. As the main plot is a murder mystery accompanied by a ghost, it has the potential to wander into the realm of a bit scary. The suspense very nearly killed me at times. But it’s offset by Billy and Abigale and their very sweet romance, giving my easily scared self to settle down and get a nice breather. Overall, I loved how the scary and sweet were woven together and how there was always forward progress.
I had been looking forward to getting into this one. I have a fondness for ghosts, but not the scary kind, and the fact that the main character is a pianist caught my attention. Turns out I scare far more easily than I thought! I’m not sure what it was, but, whenever the ghost made an appearance, I was just seriously spooked and found myself peeking at shadows. It’s impossible for me to say if it was actually scary or not, but, compared to horror and stories with malevolent ghosts, this probably wasn’t nearly as scary. As a murder mystery, it was a lot of fun, with clues sprinkled here and there and two characters who were intrigued enough to be drawn into it. I liked how their process sounded rational and logical, and they didn’t jump into anything that would have made this whole book unbelievable. I really liked that it felt like the kind of story that could have been real.
The murder mystery was fascinating. I really liked that the author kept the cast of characters small, but also managed to throw suspicion off everyone. I liked that it touched on mental health, but wish it had been a bigger part of the story. There were times when it felt like it was moving too fast, like suddenly something is thrown in and some leaps are made. But, in the end, it was backed up by evidence and rationale; I just wished it had slowed down a little. There were some minor bits that didn’t quite add up to me. Nothing that really impacted the story or mystery; just some questions that came to mind that had no real bearing on the story. Overall, though, it flowed really well in a logical order with no big leaps that came out of nowhere.
Billy Bean is really just the most perfect character to lead this story. His life is seriously boring, so it felt like the whole murder mystery helped him figure himself out and what he was capable of. I loved his desire to find a way to help the ghost, and especially appreciated how he didn’t spook easily. He was very logical and kept a good humor about just about everything throughout the entire book. His general unflappability and ability to take things in stride with good humor really helped relax me, and I have to credit him for upping my enjoyment of this story. He was a lot of fun to read. I also really liked his relationship with his mother. It’s complicated, but there’s a lot of love between the two of them, and I loved how the events of the murder mystery impacted their relationship. My favorite part of him, though, was just how adorably awkward he was, especially around Abigale. He felt both bashful and forward, and never quite seemed to know which way he should be. It was interesting to see him dance around, and my heart definitely smiled at him.
Woven with the murder mystery is a sweetly awkward romance. Neither Billy nor Abigale really seems to know what to do, but it felt like their hearts just yearned for each other. There were so many sweet moments between them, so many things that just said they were perfect for each other. And yet their relationship managed to feel real, especially with those early honeymoon days of infatuation. But, with everything they went through together, I could absolutely believe they were perfect together. The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the way they met and the ethical questions it raised. As someone who was trained in a similar field, I’m too aware of the ethics, so the relationship bothered me in that regard.
I think the only thing that really disappointed me was the setting. Set in what felt like the Inland Empire of Southern California, it mentioned San Bernardino, but never said where, exactly, Billy lived. I got a general sense of a town, but it felt nondescript, and the fact that it was in Southern California but definitely not San Bernardino left me wanting more. As I am familiar with the Inland Empire, I could make some guesses and extrapolate what Billy’s neighborhood looked like, but I really wanted more. I wanted something that really screamed California to me. I think it would have helped bring the story to life better for me, but I also think the main story lines were just strong enough to stand on their own.
Billy Bean’s Ghost is a fast-paced murder mystery paired with a sweet romance. It perfectly balances the mystery and the humor, making for a read that had me a bit terrified now and then while also offering parts that calmed me down a and let me settle back into the story. Billy and Abigale were absolutely delightful and I liked that they both had good heads on their shoulders. My favorite part was the whimsical focus on what Billy ate for dinner, and I liked that it was repeated as it helped add some levity I came to really appreciate. Overall, this was a really fun, if a bit scary, read.
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Thank you to the author, John York, for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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