New friends: “Presley Parker”

Presley Parker is a character created by author Penny Warner in her new “party planner” series, all with California’s Bay Area settings. I recently read HOW TO SURVIVE A KILLER SÉANCE which is set in two real places – the “haunted” Winchester House in San Jose, and Treasure Island, which sits on a landfill in San Francisco Bay. Built for the 1938-39 Golden Gate Exposition, Pan American Airways launched the China Clipper from Treasure Island, offering the first commercial air service across the Pacific.

SÉANCE is the third book in the series. The first two are HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY, set on Treasure Island and Alcatraz, and HOW TO CRASH A KILLER BASH, set at San Francisco’s famed de Young Museum. The recently published fourth book is HOW TO PARTY WITH A KILLER VAMPIRE, set in Colma, the Bay Area’s burial ground and home to fourteen cemeteries. All of the books offer party tips throughout, and a full party plan at the back.

The party-planning series is really just the tip of the iceberg for this multi-talented, always busy author and teacher. You can find out more about her activities on her web site at


By Penny Warner

Reviewed by Pat Browning

Event planner Presley Parker is your best girl friend. Settle in with a low-fat blueberry muffin and a double latte and let her tell you what she’s planning, how her love life’s going, and what happened at the killer séance she just produced.

It’s a killer in more ways than one. The client is Jonathan Ellington, a computer magnate who wants to launch his new 4-D holographic projector with a séance at the Winchester Mystery House inSan Jose. He plans to have Sarah Winchester, the long-dead owner, “appear” and endorse his product.

 No problem for Presley, who has loyal colleagues to help her pull off such a stunt. Jonathan brings his own crew to operate his top-secret magic machine. All goes well until Sarah’s appearance goes off the rails. At first she does fine, “materializing” to deliver her infomercial, but the program has been hacked. Sarah begins to accuse one of the guests of serial adultery and general scuzziness.

End of séance, beginning of mayhem. When the programmer operating the 4-D projector is murdered, Presley and the police turn the area upside down looking for the missing suspect.

Presley and her helpful colleagues are a likeable lot. Her romantic interest is Brad, a crime scene cleanup operator who is handy for picking locks, massaging blood stains out of carpet and hot sex. We have to take the author’s word for the hot sex. This is a family-friendly mystery with suicide, murder and serial adultery all offstage.

The setting is a colorful one and Warner manages to get in some of the history without dragging the story. The Winchester House in San Jose was the property of William Winchester of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. He died and left his widow a half-interest in the company and a $20 million inheritance. She used the money to build what became known as the Winchester House – 160 rooms haunted by the spirits of Indians who had been killed by her husband’s rifles. She slept in a different room every night so the spirits couldn’t find her.

An unusual feature of a house filled with unusual features is the “listening tube.” It looks like an exposed plumbing pipe on the ceiling but it runs the length of a wall, turns down in one corner and dead-ends halfway to the floor. Originally added so Sarah Winchester could contact her servants, the tubes became her means of listening in on their conversations wherever she happened to be. A listening tube plays an important role in this story.

Just as colorful is the location of Presley’s business on Treasure Island, which sits on a landfill in San Francisco Bay. Built for the 1938-39 Golden Gate Exposition, Pan American Airways launched the China Clipper from Treasure Island, offering the first commercial air service across the Pacific.

HOW TO SURVIVE A KILLER SÉANCE is so “current” even the diseases are trendy: stroke, Alzheimer’s, sexual addiction, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Fifty years from now someone could pick up this book and get a word picture of life in the Bay Area as it was in the first decade of the 21st century.

It’s a fun read. The author begins each chapter with a party planning tip. My favorite is Tip #8:

(quote) Once the room is prepared, it’s time to join hands and summon the spirits. Use words like, “Our beloved Spirit, commune with us.” Avoid invoking the wrong spirits by saying things like, “Yoo-hoo. Anybody there?” or “I’d like to speak to Jack the Ripper.” (end quote)

(My thanks to Penny Warner’s publicist at Penguin Group for a copy of this book.)

About browning26

mystery author, former English teacher, former newspaper reporter, former legal secretary

Posted on December 21, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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