Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones was in the running for our Online Teen Book Club a few months ago, and while it didn’t win the vote, it has been on my radar since then. There was so much appealing to it: Victorian London, ghosts, mystery, and a gorgeous cover! Eventually, I just took it home, and I’m so glad I did. I couldn’t put this down and read it in almost one sitting.
The plot is very intriguing, and it is presented in such an expert way, that I was hooked before I even knew it. Something strange is happening in London; most normal people can’t see it, but the ghosts know something is amiss. Black rot is taking control of buildings, making them a danger to any ghost who wanders by. Meanwhile, in a small London suburb, fourteen-year-old Sam Toop, son of an undertaker, knows all about ghosts; he is a Talker, able to communicate with spirits and see into their world. On a trip to London, Sam sees the black rot firsthand, but what can a fourteen-year-old possibly do to stop this terrible scourge? And how did it come to be in the first place?
This is a fantastical (and fantastic) mystery. It is well-written, funny, and doesn’t get too bogged down in historical details. They are there for readers who love novels set in a bygone era, but they don’t overwhelm the story. I would say that they add a little bit of flavour, but it’s really the plot and the characters that make this book so amazing! Let’s take a look at some of the great supporting characters. First we have Lapsewood, a bureaucratic ghost who likes his desk job and is scared of change. When a sudden demotion forces him to visit London’s haunted houses, he stumbles across the mystery of black rot and has to work with street urchin and rogue ghost Tanner to get to the bottom of things. There’s also Clara, a young, aspiring journalist and tenant of one of the haunted houses that has been affected by black rot. She is fascinated by the idea of ghosts and wants to know more. Each of these characters (and several others) circle the mystery, until the truth is eventually revealed in a spectacular way.
With so many plot threads, this book could have felt scattered and rushed, but it wasn’t either of those things. It was incredibly readable, with a plot that pulled you along; Jones did a fantastic job of dropping just enough hints throughout the book that the resolution to the mystery didn’t come out of nowhere. After the satisfying conclusion, I couldn’t help but wish there were more adventures with the cast from Constable & Toop.
This is a YA that can easily satisfy confident middle grade readers; despite the mention of death and murder, the novel doesn’t get too graphic or gory. It’s a great historical mystery that comes close to being unputdownable.