The Dead Kid Detective Agency (ECW Press, 2011)
by Evan Munday
Description (from the publisher)
Thirteen-year-old October Schwartz is new in town, short on friends, and the child of a clinically depressed science teacher. Naturally, she spends most of her time in the Sticksville Cemetery, which just happens to border her backyard. And that backyard just happens to be the home of five dead teenagers, each from a different era of the past: there’s the dead United Empire Loyalist! The dead escaped slave who made her way north via the Underground Railroad! The dead quintuplet!
Soon, October befriends the five dead kids. Together — using October’s smarts and the dead kids’ abilities to walk through walls and get around undetected and stuff — they form The Dead Kid Detective Agency, committed to solving Sticksville’s most mysterious mysteries. October’s like Nancy Drew, if she’d hung out with corpses.
When Sticksville Central High School’s beloved French teacher dies in a suspicious car accident, it provides the agency with its first bona fide case. Soon October and her five dead friends find themselves in the midst of a nefarious murder plot, thick with car chases, cafeteria fights, sociopathic math teachers, real estate appointments, and a wacky adventure that might uncover the truth about a bomb that exploded almost 40 years ago.
What the Tiny Monkey thinks
Look, I ain't a kid no mores, see? I don't whitewash fences for nickels and a smile, I don't mow lawns 'cuz my Dad sez it ain't gonna cut itself, I don't go to school to gets me some of that fancy book-learning. But I do, on occasion, read YA. Perhaps its the latent librarian in me, but sometimes it's refreshing to read for a different age bracket. Like adult fiction, the quality varies, from the sublime highs of The Golden Compass to the doltish lows of Twilight. Author and illustrator (and genius publicist for Coach House Press) Evan Munday aims for the highs, and although The Dead Kid Detective Agency does not transcend the genre, it is an enjoyably sardonic adventure with an appealing lead and a surprising trek into a violent chapter in Canadian history. October (wonderful name) is a primo heroine, resourceful, slightly demented, and unafraid of ghosts, murderers, or, worse than both, stuck-up teenage girls (is anything more terrifying than a fifteen-year-old girl with a sense of entitlement?). Her home life is remarkably unvarnished; I can't recall any similar books where a parent is clinically depressed and another has simply run off in the night. It's the realism of these details which help ground the more fantastical elements, and if the plot occasionally careens off the rails, Munday's dry sarcasm and weird asides keep the narrative hopping. His style reminds me of Sean Cullen's Monty Pythonesque writing voice in the Hamish X series (check it out!), but Munday has a firmer grasp of character, and is less prone to leaving the plot altogether for the sake of an admittedly funny witticism. There is certainly enough in Sticksville to keep the series going, as Munday promises, and I hope October will get a few more chances to shine.
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