The Player by Joe Consentino
When young music teacher Andre Beaufort discovers an antique player piano in the basement of his apartment building, he is visited by the ghost of the original owner: a dapper and charismatic playboy from the Roaring Twenties, Freddy Birtwistle.
Andre has never seen a ghost and Freddy has never been one, so they get off to a rocky start. But when Andre finds his neighbor murdered on his doorstep, he and Freddy join forces to narrow the pool of suspects.
Soon Andre and Freddy discover that opposites attract, even if one’s alive and the other dead. Together these amateur detectives make an enticing team, and it’s a good thing too, because the first murder they solve together won’t be their last. But the real mystery isn’t just whodunit—it’s how a romance between a man and a ghost can have a happily ever after ending.
The Player contains two stand-alone cozy murder mysteries, The City House and The Country House.
I love stories featuring ghosts — especially romances — so I couldn’t wait to delve into this novel. The Player is actually two gay cozy mystery stories in one book. The first novella is entitled “The Country House,” which opens with Andre discovering an old player piano in his apartment building’s basement. His Aunt, who is the landlord, agrees to let Andre haul up the piano to his apartment. What Andre doesn’t know is that there’s a handsome ghost named Freddy Birtwistle attached to the piano whom Andre inadvertently releases when he begins to play the pianola.
As we soon learn, Freddy, a wealthy meticulously-dressed socialite from the roaring 20s, was shot at the age of 30 by a jealous husband in 1935. Freddy was quite the gay “player” in his day, and if any of his numerous stories about his exploits can be believed, he left a trail of broken hearts in his wake. According to Freddy, he broke the heart of every eligible male Hollywood celebrity, and even his presence would often send spouses/partners into a jealous rage. This part of the book was a lot of fun, though I did find that Freddy’s rambling anecdotes got to be a tad repetitive by the second book.
The novel then takes a compelling turn when one of the tenants in Andre’s building is murdered, and once Andre becomes a suspect, the duo takes it upon themselves to investigate the crime in the style of Holmes and Watson. Through their investigation, we meet all the other quirky tenants of the building as we try to guess whodunit.
Given that Freddy was bound to the piano and couldn’t physically leave the apartment, Andre did all the legwork and then reported his findings back to Freddy. The two men then put their heads together to try to figure out the case. And of course, while working together, they fall deeply in love.
This story was a lot of fun and incorporated several surprising plot twists that I didn’t see coming. I also loved Freddy’s continuous stream of 1920s lingo and expressions, many causing me to laugh out loud.
The second book, The Country House, takes place at Freddy’s former country house, now converted into a B & B. At first, we think that Andre is on his own, but another of Freddy’s original player piano’s is in Andre’s rented room, and a couple of pumps of the pedal bring Andre’s ghostly lover to him.
Once again, a murder occurs, and this time, it’s the surly proprietor of the B & B. Like The City House, this second book is also populated with a plethora of compelling and outlandish characters. I found the second book to be as delightful as the first one. It was fast-paced, delightfully twisty (more so even than the first) with a shocking ending.
Now it’s worth mentioning that given that these two novellas are cozy mysteries, meaning there is no on-page sex, swearing, or violence. What we do get, however, is a sweet romance between a young man and a saucy charismatic ghost from the 1920s, as well as a couple of captivating murder mysteries to solve. I hope the author writes more in this world as I’d love to revisit these two enchanting characters.