Constable and Toop by Gareth P. Jones
You know that feeling where you wonder why it took so long for you to get round to reading a book, it was just that good? Yeah, I have that feeling for this one. Allow me to introduce, the excellent Constable and Toop!
Sam Toop lives with his father in the buiness his dad co-owns with Mr Constable. This business just so happens to be a funeral parlour and, oh yes, Sam can see ghosts. What he does once he’s seen them though is no easy matter – does he do the favours they ask of him before they go through the Unseen Door, or does he keep his nose out of the unfinished affairs of the dead?
Meanwhile Lapsewood, a ghostly paperpusher, is torn out of his job as an admin assistant for the ghostly Bureau to join the ranks of the Outreach Workers. They go about the living checking up on the residents of haunted houses, however one of them has gone missing, and formerly haunted houses are now just regular houses, apart from the sinister black rot that slowly suffocates them. With the Black Rot threatening every ghost in London and with ghosts vanishing right off the streets, Lapsewood’s and Sam’s lives are about to collide as they both become embroiled in a danger that threatens both the living and the dead.
It was quite hard to write a little synopsis for this book, if only because so many of the huge array of characters Jones uses kept butting their heads in to chime in their part of the story. There are some really fun chaps and chappesses in this read, and I’m especially fond of Nell the lady of the night and the Grey Man of the Theatre Royal of Drury Lane (who it turns out is actually supposed to exist, as far as a ghost can exist outside of a storybook anyway). That said, because so many characters have to be introduced and because the whole notion of the ghostly Bureau has to be set up, it can take a little while for the book to really get going. The reader isn’t left waiting around though, you’re still interested in what’s going to happen next even if the plot isn’t roaring along like a steam train gone loco. Considering a few of the books I’ve read recently have really taken an AGE to get going, this is a real breath of fresh air – a long set up without being drawn out and utterly engrossing along the way. Now that takes some doing!
The Bureau is easily one of the things I liked best about this story – I loved that there are still ghosts needed to do the paperwork, I loved the idea of Rogue Ghosts slipping through the cracks in ghostly society and needing to be documented properly for the record, and I love that there are still ghosts who let the grunts do the work while they go out to play golf. Jones clearly spent some time planning out this halfway house between the Other Side and the Living and there’s so many neat touches it’s hard to pick favourites. I especially like the ghosts though who’ve got a real story behind them, like the Grey Man or the ghosts that can be found down where the Great Fire of London started, half burnt in death as they were in life with one lucky devil still posessing a pack of cards for them to play with down by the Monument. As an ex-Historian I love little touches like these where History gets reused.
The haunted houses and their resident ghosts are such a cool idea and it’s very easy to get attached to the characters assigned to each building. Which leads me to the one downfall I think this book has – the ending feels a little bit too neat and some characters got dealt with too succintly for my liking. At the end of the book Jones talks about all the research he did and I get the impression that this book expanded along with it but then when it came to the ending, it was still the same before all the research: it didn’t expand with the rest of the book. It feels like it leaves quite a lot of questions open and deals with some aspects of the story almost a little cavalierly, which jars a bit when you’ve spent so much time in the book getting to know the characters and exploring all the curves the author throws into the plot.
That said though, perhaps it’s deliberate? Perhaps Jones is planning to revisit the world of Sam Toop and Lapsewood and go back to some of those questions he left hanging? If he is, I for one would welcome it because despite the not quite perfect ending, I really enjoyed this read and would love to go back to a ghostly London again.
Find it here
P.S. On a completely unrelated note, I have to say props to Jones for including notes on all his research at the back of the book – as an ex-Historian I really, really love knowing where to go to find out more informtion on this bit or that bit of London lore that got used in the story. Thank you Mr Jones!