Monday, November 05, 2012
Constable and Toop by Gareth P. Jones
Sam Toop lives in a funeral parlour, blessed (or cursed) with an unusual gift. While his father buries the dead, Sam is haunted by their constant demands for attention. Trouble is afoot on the 'other side' - there is a horrible disease that is mysteriously imprisoning ghosts into empty houses in the world of the living. And Sam is caught in the middle - will he be able to bring himself to help?
Blue Peter Award winner Gareth P. Jones has woven a darkly comic story, a wonderfully funny adventure that roams the grimy streets of Victorian London
I read this book a while ago after receiving a copy from Hot Key Books. To be honest I wanted to read it because of the beautiful cover and I love anything to do with Victorian London. I was also intrigued by Sam, a child who can see ghosts. At first he's quite introverted - used to doing as he's told. But the arrival of his uncle who needs hiding from the police reveals parts of Sam's dad's life that he knew nothing about. The first few chapters introduce the reader to quite a few characters. First there's murder victim Emily who's encouraged not to follow The Knocking which will move her on to the next world - her spirit is pretty much kidnapped by an unknown assailant. Then there's Lapsewood, a ghost who thrives on order and whose afterlife is staid and controlled until he's threatened with being despatched to The Vault.
Lapsewood is offered a second chance though - to be a Prowler and track down rogue ghosts (those who've ignored The Knocking - the sound which heralds entry into the next world). But ghosts are going missing and this draws together the stories of Sam, Lapsewood and also Clara who's just moved in to a haunted house. The murders are cleverly mixed up into the story of haunted houses and their resident ghosts. I was transfixed from the first few pages. I fell in love with the ghost world that the author has created - there's loads of brilliant little details too like the receptionist who's reading the complete manuscript of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Even though the subject matter is fantastical there's wonderful material here that all sorts of people can relate to. Firstly there's Lapsewood who's in his early-thirties and stuck in a rut. He's not doing the sort of work he dreamed of and finds it impossible to try for the things that his heart desires. Initially, at the beginning of the book he isn't sure that he wants to change and actively fights against it but as the story develops he starts to take chances and surprises himself. Sam has to deal with loss and secrets. After his mother dies he feels alone and is bullied at school for being different. His family has secrets and he has to come to terms with the realisation that perhaps he doesn't know his father as well as he thought. He also has to accept himself, strange gifts and all which is perhaps the hardest thing.
Constable and Toop is a magical book. It's the kind of read that I would have loved to have been given as a child at Christmas. It's got the right combination of mystery, ghosts and excitement. Scratch that - I would be over the moon if someone bought this for me now! I also think this is a good book for boys with it's male protagonist and a good dose of horror. A special book that I'll definitely read again.