Title: Constable and Toop

Author: Gareth P. Jones

Genre: Gothic, Mystery, Historical, Middle Grade

Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication date: October 4th 2012
Paperback: 372 pages

Sam Toop lives in a funeral parlour, blessed (or cursed) with an unusual gift. While his father buries the dead, Sam is haunted by their constant demands for attention. Trouble is afoot on the ‘other side’ – there is a horrible disease that is mysteriously imprisoning ghosts into empty houses in the world of the living. And Sam is caught in the middle – will he be able to bring himself to help?

Blue Peter Award winner Gareth P. Jones has woven a darkly comic story, a wonderfully funny adventure that roams the grimy streets of Victorian London.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Bought

Why did I read this book: I’ve had my eyes on this book for a while as I tend to love all the different things it encompasses: Gothic, Mystery, Historical, Middle Grade.

Review:

Sam Toop lives in a funeral parlour with his father and this proximity to death is thought to be the reason behind Sam’s ability to see ghosts. As a Talker, he is constantly sought after by hopeful spirits wanting to put their affairs in order with Sam’s help. He is not very keen about it especially when he ends up helping the wrong sort of people.

On the “other side”, over at the Ghost Bureau, it is business as usual as long-dead clerks take care of Ghosts and Apparitions, setting up all the necessary documentation they need in order to be Legal Ghosts of London. But then, minor bureaucrat Lapsewood gets entangled in a dastardly plot as the terrible Black Rot spreads around Haunted Houses after their Ghosts mysteriously disappear.

In the meantime, a demon hound haunts the streets of London after being set free by the works of an exorcist bent on ridding London of its demons.

Inspired by Victorian’s preoccupation with mourning rituals, Constable and Toop is a paranormal Mystery novel set in Victorian London, a place for the poor and the rich as well as the living and the dead.

Constable and Toop offers an incredibly competent blend of mystery and paranormal especially with the way that several different threads and themes are expanded and elaborated on to form a cohesive whole. The chapters alternate between several characters’ point of view and as the story progresses, more of those are added. It is impressive how this is done with aplomb as this ever increasing number of characters and storylines never seem excessive or superfluous (although some of those threads are unfortunately a bit superficially dealt with).

It addresses life in London, the life of the poor and of the well-off, of the honest and the dishonest. There is also the life in the afterlife, and how gloomy it can be for those who never crossed over and stayed behind for different reasons. I loved the after-life world that the author created and its mixture of boring bureaucracy (firmly rooted in the Real Life, of course) and hopeful future. The storyline involving Sam’s family and its secretive past is also another highlight of this novel. There is a little bit of horror, a little bit of romance as well as a little bit of comedy.

Unfortunately, despite of its obvious positive aspects what struck me the most about Constable and Toop is how extremely male-centric it is. There are many point of view characters but apart from exactly one – a little girl named Clara – all of them are male. Even within each particular character’s storyline, the vast majority of their interaction is with other male characters. And when they do interact with female characters these invariably turn out to be either objects of their romantic interest, murder victims or appendixes to the male character’s arc. Which is a shame, because the little I saw of Clara and her drive to be an investigative journalist and a writer, was actually awesome. Nothing frustrates me more than having to say in a review “but where are all the women” because frankly, I shouldn’t have to.

All in all, a solid yet frustrating read.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

Sam glanced at his uncle. He had no desire to reveal his gift to him. He tried to ignore the ghost but she continued to go on. ‘They say you’re a Talker. You can hear and see us. They say you’ll help us. Please help me. I must tell my Tom not to marry her.’

Sam disliked the maudlers and the mopers most of all, always coming to him, begging for help. At least this one was pretty. A few years older than Sam, twenty perhaps, but even in death he could see she had been a beauty.

He shifted his eyes to indicate that he would speak with her outside, then poured a ladleful of soup into the bowl and placed it back in front of his uncle.

‘You shouldn’t listen to your old man,’ said Uncle Jack. ‘We used to be as thick as thieves, me and him. I don’t know what he’s said about me before, but every story has two sides. Most have more.’

‘He’s never mentioned you,’ replied Sam honestly.

Jack swallowed a mouthful of soup. ‘This tastes better now, lad. You’ll make someone a good wife some day.’ He laughed. ‘Oh, there you go again with your sulky looks. It was a joke.’

The lady in the nightdress sniffed.

‘And pay no attention to her, neither,’ added Jack in a hushed voice. ‘I’ll bet her chap’s better off with the sister than with that moaning old trout.’

Rating: 6 – Good, recommended with reservations

Reading Next: Dark Star by Bethany Frenette

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8 Responses to Book Review: Constable and Toop by Gareth P. Jones

  1. Robyn says:

    I actually did live in a former funeral home. Nobody told us that until after we bought the house. EEEEK! I can’t wait to read this book. I love the paranormal aspect to this. Thanks for the review. My favorite paranormal book is called, “ Shadow of the Sun ” by author Merrie P. Wycoff. This a paranormal fiction thriller written in the time of ancient Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Ahkenaten and Queen Nefertiti and told through the eyes of their daughter, Merit-Aten. The characters are rich with emotion and add an element of intrigue to the story. The book offers a riveting account of Merit-Aten’s battles with the dark forces of the paranormal.

  2. Gareth says:

    Hello,

    I don’t normally write comments on reviews of my books (honestly, I don’t) and I want to thank you for all the nice things you’ve said about the book. But I thought it worth pointing out there are also POVs from Emily and Lady Aysgarth as well as Clara. Having said that, I accept that this is story with two male principle protagonists (which is why I wanted to make Clara such a strong and confident female character). If you enjoyed it but you prefer your books more female-centric, can I suggest my previous book, The Considine Curse. Anyway, thank you for writing this considered review.

  3. Ana says:

    Thanks for commenting and correcting me about the POVs I didn’t mention.

    I think it is also worth pointing out though that both Emily and Lady Aysgarth’s POVs read almost like interludes to the real action to be completely honest and that they both turn out to be murder victims (in different ways) with no control whatsoever about what happens TO them.

    It is not that I prefer books that are female-centric per se or that I don’t like books with male pov. I just really mind books with male POVs that seem to be set in a world where most of the female characters are so clearly secondary and peripheral.

    I actually do already have The Considine Curse on my TBR, thanks for reminding me.

  4. Gareth says:

    Fair points and no condescension intended. I will take your views into account in my next book (honestly).

    My final point would be that a lot of characters, male and female get murdered and that I felt that Clara was a much more proactive character than Sam but if this didn’t come across to you it is my failing. Will try to do better in my next book. Hope you enjoy Considine.

    All my best,

    Gareth

  5. Ana says:

    Actually, no failing at all about Clara, as I said, she was by far my favourite character and frankly, awesome.

    Cheers,
    Ana

  6. Gareth says:

    Thanks

    Sorry for any confusion over my initial reply. Genuinely grateful for review.

    Gareth

  7. Sara says:

    No disrespect intended over a thoughtful and provocative review; however, I like a little push-back from time to time, and perhaps you do too. Here’s my thought: Do you feel similarly frustrated with books that have a female POV and male characters that seem decidedly secondary and peripheral? Depending on the situation, I might agree with this critique, but it is problematic to apply a standard in one direction that you would not so easily apply in the other. Friendly discourse…

  8. Ana says:

    Sara – no disrespect taken.

    To be completely honest? No. I don’t feel similarly frustrated because men have not had suffered historically the action of having their stories and voices erased/shut down/disregarded like women have. Because to me the problem here is that it is not only this book but it is a tradition of books that have historically portrayed women as peripheral and secondary to men’s stories and this book is another one of them in that sense.

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