September 11, 2014
Turns out where he's been, is writing middle grade and kids' books. And I've mostly been on the YA tip with just the occasional MG foray, so yeah, I suppose that's why I hadn't run into his books before. Constable & Toop, though—I'd say this not only crosses the line between MG and YA (and actually is scary enough, with enough adult main characters, to be more YA), but also would make a good crossover that adult readers would enjoy. I'd compare it firstly to The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, but it also had more than a dash (in my mind) of Beetlejuice, with its post-death bureaucracy (remember the Handbook for the Recently Deceased?) and its maze of rules and regulations.
As you might guess, this means the book has its share of humor as well as spookiness. But it's also got likeable, endearing main characters who you simply MUST root for because they're on the side of all that is good and non-bureaucratic in the world, living or dead. One of those characters is the rather unfortunate Mr. Lapsewood, who is himself a ghost, working behind a desk for the Ghost Bureau. Being sent to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a fellow ghost employee out in the streets of London feels like the chance of a, er, lifetime, and a chance to prove himself as being capable of more than his current life as a desk jockey. But then he discovers something truly awful: the Black Rot. It's an affliction developed by haunted houses that are deprived of their resident ghosts—say, via a rogue exorcism. Who's responsible? And can Lapsewood solve the problem?
Meanwhile, our other major character is Sam Toop. He's the son of an undertaker, his father being the Toop in the Constable & Toop funeral and mortuary business. He's about twelve or so, and he's a pretty normal kid for someone who's lived in a funeral home all his life. Oh, except for that one thing: he can see ghosts. Generally, though, things are going along pretty well for Sam until his lowlife Uncle Jack shows up one day and…uh…sorry, can't resist…threatens to make life a living hell if Sam and his dad don't help him out just a little. And then Jack "helps" Sam out, too, but maybe he doesn't want that kind of help…since it seems to coincide with some awfully nefarious doings out in the alleyways of London.
The stories of the living and the dead entwine and, in the end, come together in a most satisfying way. As you might guess, Lapsewood and Sam (and a few other fun minor characters) have to help each other in order to rid London of the Black Rot. The story's filled with atmospheric detail and subtle, witty humor along the lines of a Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams. I absolutely adored it.
You can find Constable & Toop by Gareth Jones online, or at an independent bookstore near you!