Today I Read…The Dead Kid Detective Agency

Dead Kid Detective AgencyToday I read The Dead Kid Detective Agency, written and illustrated by Evan Munday, the first book in th e Dead Kid Detective Agency series.

October Schwartz hasn’t been having the best luck lately. Her depressed dad has moved them to the tiny town of Stickville, where he’s a teacher at her new high school, only she’s younger than everybody else. She met a really cool girl, who immediately gets the whole school to call her “Zombie Tramp”. Oh, and there are a bunch of dead kids hanging out in the cemetery behind her house, and only October can see them. How’s a girl to write the greatest horror story ever (Two Knives, One Thousand Demons) under these conditions?

Then October’s favourite teacher dies under suspicious circumstances, and no one is willing to listen to October when she says Mr. O’Shea didn’t kill himself. No one, that is, except the dead kids: Cyril, Morna, Tabetha, Kirby, and Derek, children from different times who have one thing in common–none of them know how they died. Together October and the ghosts form the Dead Kid Detective Agency to investigate Mr. O’Shea’s death, and his life. After all, who would want to kill a French teacher? Their investigation leads them all the way back to 1960s Quebec and the Front de liberation du Quebec, and the secrets of the teachers of Stickville.

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I met Evan Munday at last year’s OLA Festival of Trees, where I helped him with his workshop. He was a lively presenter and he made his book sound really interesting, so I picked it up at the Word on the Street Festival and it finally made it to the top of my to-read pile (and by pile I mean mountain range). I’m glad I bought it- Munday tells an entertaining tale that sets the stage well for the following books (the second book Dial M for Morna has been released). Munday also drew the cartoons scattered throughout the book.

The book is set in modern times, but there are pieces of Canadian history throughout the book, since each of the dead kids is from a different era, and Mr. O’Shea’s death is connected to the FLQ. It’s worked in in an interesting way, and adds some humour when the kid from the 1700s tries to drive a car. The point of view switches between October and an omniscient narrator, which can be a bit much when it switches mid-chapter, but it usually adds to the humour. The mystery is well-built and the characters are lively and interesting, especially the dead ones. The living ones include the loyal friends, the mean girls, the good and bad teachers, and the distant relatives required of a young adult novel, but the familiar archetypes never feel stale. (Though just what is Stacey’s last name?)

At 300 pages this isn’t a terribly quick read, but it’s a fun one, even when Munday is sneakily trying to make you learn things–I mean, knowledge of A-ha is important to musical history, so he can probably be forgiven for the other history bits. (Whaddaya mean, who’s A-ha? Kids, sheesh.) A good read for anyone who likes their protagonist to be pop-culture saavy and quick with a quip (Buffy Summers, how I miss you!), as well as those who like their characters to not understand how the metal cart moves without a horse.

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October Schwartz is not dead.

Now, there are plenty of dead folks in this book (you read the title before starting the book, right?), it’s just that October Schwartz does not happen to be one of them. That said, it was her first day at Sticksville Central High School, and she sort of wished she were dead.

October had moved to Sticksville only a month earlier, and she didn’t know anyone yet, unless you counted her dad and maybe the Korean lady who sold her gum at the convenience store. She’d spent the month of August reading in the cemetery behind their house and working on writing her own book. So her first day of high school was even more nerve-wracking than it was for most of the students at Sticksville Central. The way she figured it, everybody was going to hate her. They certainly had in her old town. Why should this one be any different?

There were plenty of reasons for the average high school student to hate her: she wasn’t chubby, but she wasn’t not chubby, which, to those naturally inclined to be unpleasant people, meant she was fat. Also, she wore more black eyeliner than most — barring only silent film actresses, really. Add to that the natural black hair she’d inherited from her mom and her affinity for black clothing, and she was like a walking teen vampire joke waiting to happen.

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4 thoughts on “Today I Read…The Dead Kid Detective Agency

  1. This book mainly focused on the FLQ in the 1960’s, but I think he intends to explore the historical period of each of the dead kids in the successive books as October and the dead kids investigate their deaths- Morna died in 1914 as the daughter of Scottish immigrants, so that’s probably the next time period.

  2. Pingback: OLA Super Conference 2014 review | wadingthroughbooks

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