I don't usually have an interest in reviewing children's books, but the two books I received from Hotkey publishing who were in Dublin a couple of weeks ago for signings are in that funny cross-over category, much like Harry Potter, where when you are looking at books for your children/nieces/nephews as a present you find yourself just as interested in reading them yourself.
The first book I am going to review from Hotkey is by Gareth P. Jones, winner of the Blue Peter Award for The Considine Curse. His newest book Constable and Toop is categorised as 'funny, historical, gruesome and scary' i.e. just what kids want and has very Gothic looking artwork on the cover of a Victorian undertakers frontage by artist Aron Wiesenfeld.
This book is funny before you have even started because the author 'praise for' section usually from worthy book critics and national newspapers is full of comments from 'the ghost of' classic Victorian authors- very clever, and suggests early on Jones own reading and influences on the style of writing used. The prologue starts us straight into a murder of which we will learn the relevance of later on and then we are into the parallel 1884 stories.
There is Lapsewood, whom we soon realise is a ghost, working in The Bureau to the afterlife where he processes dispatch documents. It's gruesome alright, with all the different deaths of the characters described; bayonet wounds from The Crimea and hangings in Newgate. There's Colonel Penhaligan, the boss of the ghost world and his beautiful secretary Alice Biggins (great Victorian sounding names.) There are 'Prowlers' who go on haunting missions to the physical world and 'Enforcers' who bring 'Rogue' ghosts into line. It's the Mission Impossible office of the ghost world- should you wish to accept the task or Rent-A-Ghost. There's the comedy of the polter-licenses and Opacity permission forms and this runs parallel to the more serious Victorian drama story of Sam Toop.
Young Sam Toop, undertaker's son whose mother is dead lives over the funeral parlour with his father - a real Dickensian set-up, and has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. Temporarily harbouring his criminal uncle from the police, he finds his uncle also has the ability to communicate. The uncle's role in the story becomes more troublesome as stories of 'The Kitchen Killer' start to get around.
Set at the time of Jack The Ripper it is a book packed full of characters. Based on the name of a real undertakers in south London, the importance of mourning in the Victorian culture, the number of ghost stories and the vivid details of murders in the newspapers at the time were all things that the author drew on for inspiration. Researching the book, the streets of London became more useful than he had initially realised, seeing plaques and signs, visiting Victorian theatres, pubs and churches as well as museums which all contribute to creating a suitably Gothic atmosphere for this very enjoyable and entertaining book.