Set in 1884, during the forty-seventh year of Queen Victoria’s reign, Constable & Toop is a marvellous Victorian ghost story told by a hoard of extraordinary characters. I knew I was about to embark on something a little different as soon as I opened the book and was confronted with ‘Praise’, not from press or reviewers, but from famous ghosts: ‘I wish I had written this story’ says The Ghost of Charles Dickens.
Sam Toop is an undertaker’s son and it’s all he’s ever known. He’s used to death, but he cannot possibly get used to his unusual gift – he can see, hear, and talk to ghosts. They constantly plead to be heard and ask for help to accomplish things they can no longer do. On the other side: Lapsewood, a conscientious ghost whose work is unappreciated. Lapsewood is horrified to discover that haunted houses throughout London are losing their ghosts and that a mysterious Black Rot, undetected by humans, is trapping new ghosts and acting as a blockade. And don’t mention the terrifying demon hound roaming London’s streets.
Before I start to write a review, I sit down and list the main things I enjoyed about a book. But I’m struggling; I want to put everything down. Constable & Toop is full of wonderful, believable characters with colourful personalities. These characters – from Sam, our protagonist, to Clara, the journalist-in-practice daughter of wealthy Londoners – are a joy to read about. They’re extremely witty, but the sort of skilful wit that I do not come across often, such as Marquis, who has a tendency to burst into inspirational speeches during inappropriate situations, and the Artful Dodger-esque Tanner who’s determined to defy the Bureau. Every character has a fascinating history and although we do not read about them all in detail, each offers us a glimpse into how a character came to be, allowing us to appreciate the richness of the story.
Constable & Toop is a mystery set at a perfect pace, with excellent foreshadowing and impeccable characters. It’s almost wasted on children (joking, joking!). Even if you do not usually read children’s fiction, you need to pick this up. I sometimes read younger books and wonder if I’d have appreciated them more as a child, but Constable & Toop offers something for all ages. I’d have never understood the subtle references as a child. It tackles mourning, morality, and ethics, but it’s not a lecture on good behaviour. It’s one of those stories that once finished, you want to pick up and read all over again.
You can read the first few chapters here.
Thank you Hot Key Books for providing this book for review!