Lesley Thomson's protagonists are Stella Darnell, the owner of a central London cleaning business, and Jack Harmon, an underground train driver. This seemingly strangely assorted couple run a successful private detective agency when they are not doing their day jobs. While Stella is supremely efficient and practical, Jack is – well - weird. He has a strong sense of the supernatural, and that rules his life. Jack has a girlfriend, Bella, while Stella is a divorcee who has no time for men at all. Her closest companion is a miniature poodle called Stanley.
Stella's father was a detective inspector, and imparted a great deal of his expertise to his daughter. This is the fifth book in a series entitled The Detective's Daughter. Stella's mother, Suzie, is very close to Stella, although her daughter has never forgiven her for divorcing Terry, her father. Suzie never stops emphasising what an unsatisfactory husband Terry was, because he was always out on duty. Terry died some years ago and Stella always imagines his voice telling her what to do when she is working on an investigation.
Stella is interviewed in her office by a wealthy young estate agent, Natasha Latimer, who is living in the end unit of a row of Georgian cottages close to the Thames at Kew. The side wall of her cottage is actually on the towpath and she is converting it for re-sale. She has had an enormous basement cut out underneath the cottage. She wants Stella's company, Clean Slate, to provide a live-in cleaner to keep the building absolutely immaculate so she can put it on the market and sell it at a huge profit. But this is not the only thing she wants. She hears strange noises at night and is convinced that the house is haunted by a young woman who disappeared (thought to have been murdered) in 1987. She was an attractive blonde named Helen Honeysett, who actually lived in No.4, and went jogging frequently late at night with her dog, Baxter.
Natasha Latimer wants Clean Slate to get rid of Honeysett's ghost as well. Strangely, Helen Honeysett was also an estate agent.
Stella decides she will accept this very difficult contract, because she has the ideal cleaner in mind – Jack (who works as a cleaner on top of all his other occupations.)
This is where the narrative becomes exceedingly complicated, continually switching from the present to 1987 and the events leading up to and following Helen Honeysett's disappearance. The families occupying the cottages are almost the same as those occupying them in 1987, so you have the same characters in both sections of the story, except that they are now 30 years older. They are all great dog lovers, so you have dogs, who gradually die and get replaced, too. So you can be forgiven for being slightly confused.
Stella is then approached by Adam Honeysett, widower of Helen, to take up the cold case and solve Helen's murder. Stella already has him in mind as her No.1 suspect.
My favourite character is Jack, wedded to his theory that there are people he calls 'True Hosts' who are potentially or actually murderers, and are intrinsically evil.
Recommended to all dog lovers, ghost hunters and lovers of ingenious plots.