By Gareth P. Jones
Published by Hot Key Books ISBN 978-1471400117
Set in 1880's London, Gareth Jones' new novel is an entertaining and at times very scary Victorian ghost story packed with a Dickensian cast of extraordinary characters. It's witty and fun, yet not for the faint of heart: blood flows, ghosts clank chains and much of the action is set in a funeral parlour.
Sam Toop lives with his father over Constable and Toop's Funeral Parlour in a shady part of the capital. Dead bodies don't bother him, which is just as well because there are a lot of them lying around downstairs. Sam helps his father and Mr Constable with funerals, acting as a "mute" - a sad, silent young mourner walking solemnly behind the horse-drawn hearse.
Sam has a secret: he can see and talk to ghosts. Understandably, the funeral parlour is a favourite spot for spirits to return to, looking to complete business they left unfinished when death claimed them, and Sam has little choice but to help when they ask.
There are two storylines at the start of Constable and Toop, and it is quite some time before the two parts come together. Sam's story unfolds in the actual world, but in the spirit world, events are kicking off that will soon spill over into Constable and Toop's establishment.
In the Ghost Bureau, offices full of ghost administrators take care of all the paperwork and endless bureaucracy, which is needed to maintain order and keep new ghosts in line. Lapsewood, a minor admin clerk, is pushing his pen as usual when he is summoned to the high office of the big chief, Colonel Penhaligan. Some ghosts are having trouble when they visit once safe earthly haunts, so someone needs to pass over onto the human side to see what's going on. And Lapsewood is just the man - well, ghost - for the job.
There's a lot going on in this tongue-in-cheek paranormal thriller, with all the different threads and characters eventually coming together. Jones delivers an imaginative plot, a host of interesting characters and an effective Gothic atmosphere that will keep readers turning the page.
Jones is a confident writer who knows how to create convincing characters that will stay with readers once they close the book, and how to marshal them, giving them all a chance to shine. Sam is a winning central character, but he is propped up by a team of fascinating supporting characters, both dead and alive, all demanding our attention.
A funny, clever, creepy read.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com