The Dastardly Murder of Dirty Pete by Eth Clifford, 1981.
Mary Rose Onetree is starting to think that her father really likes her younger sister, Jo-Beth, better than her. Her father seems to like Jo-Beth’s dramatic flights of fancy, and he likes to say things to make her laugh. Mary Rose, on the other hand, is the sensible, practical one, and her father keeps getting irritated with her advice, especially when she frequently turns out to be right.
On their latest car trip, going to visit their Grandmother Onetree on the West Coast, Mary Rose warns her father not to leave the main road (something that he loves to do because he’s a newspaper man and can’t help being curious), and he does so anyway. Mary Rose warns him that she can’t even find this little side road on the map, but when he sees the sign that says, “Inn of the Whispering Ghost on Skull Valley Road. Two miles right at the first crossroad ahead,” nothing can stop him from going further to investigate.
Harry Onetree and the girls find a ghost town with a hotel, an opera house, and several other buildings. Although Harry only means to look around for a little while, he forgets to set his parking brake (something else Mary Rose warns him about, which he ignores), and their car rolls backward into a ditch. Since it’s getting dark, they’re stranded in the ghost town for the night. But, they’re not alone there.
They find some food in the hotel’s kitchen, and one of the chairs is warm, as if someone had just been sitting there. In an old newspaper at the hotel, they read about Sorehead Jones, who murdered the hotel owner, Dirty Pete, back in 1905 in order to get his hidden treasure of gold. But, Dirty Pete wounded Sorehead before his death, and Sorehead died shortly after, swearing that he’d seen the ghost of Dirty Pete. Supposedly, Sorehead is also a ghost who wanders through the town whispering, “Where is the gold?”
Could the ghost be the mysterious person in the hotel? But, why would a ghost need food? Then, Harry realizes something about the town that changes everything, but they still need to confront the whispering ghost before they can leave.
The solution to this one concerns the difference between fantasy and reality, and the lengths that someone might go to in order to make someone else happy. Mary Rose also comes to realize how much her father really loves her.
This is part of the Mary Rose and Jo-Beth Mysteries series.