What a splendid book title!
The Dead Detective Agency by Peg Herring
Reviewed by Geoff Nelder
Published by LL-Publications April 2011
A vibrant easy-going twenty-five-year-old woman, Tori, with not a single enemy in this world, is shot dead in her apartment for no apparent reason. The apparent lack of motive narks her so much she refuses to go to Heaven. Instead, she finds herself in a kind of Paradise cruise ship among others in limbo. She is being coached to accept her lot but when she learns there is an elite able to cross back she argues with the high and mighty and wins.
As a consequence we have a unique novel, in both senses of the word, where there are not only two detectives trying to solve a puzzling murder, but one of them is dead. In fact Tori is with her mentor dead detective, Seamus. The two demised sleuths can only exist back on their former world by inhabiting the living, sometimes the same one. They can jump between people but only in extreme circumstances may they make their presence felt. Readers are used to following a story through the eyes of a protagonist. However, in this tale, they are engaging the action through the eyes of a ‘ghost’ through their inhabited live person! And yet you don’t get lost. The narrative is an easy read belying the complexity of the issues.
There are light moments. For example when alive Tori tried to match-make two of her colleagues. Carmon lacks confidence and though she is enamoured with Abe, needed a shove. That came from Tori, finally, after she died. Brilliant.
There is sadness here too. Tori’s death was a tragic error, as her investigation uncovers. So much life for her that she really anticipated living, cruelly robbed. At least she is assured of an even better after-life.
Because the two dead detectives can switch hosts if in sufficient close proximity, and with the story style carrying a kind of hard-boiled gumshoe feel, this novel could rightly be called Sam Spade meets Quantum Leap. The action in the book is contemporary even though the feel is of an earlier era. The cover art, by Helen E.H. Madden, reinforces the 30s style beautifully with the depiction of Tori – her wistfulness as a limbo cruiseship passenger.
I remain a pecuniary ignoramus about how an investment bank works but in one respect I am at least up to conversationalist level. Thanks to Peg Herring, I am now informed on ‘selling away’, the underhand practise of cheating both the firm and client to the profit of a swindler. It is this practice that ultimately led to Tori’s death, and that of others in this action novel. In an interesting way this is Financial Swindling for Dummies. Thanks!
On another level I felt Tori and Seamus could have treated the reader to a more exciting time in their voyeuristic travelling inside other people. I ask myself: would I resist the temptation to learn more about women by being inside the head of one – seeing through her eyes and experiencing all her senses? No, I’d go all the way and I feel a lack of the sexual frisson and intellectual gender differences that could have been explored.
Even so, there is much novelty here to commend to the reader. Seamus, as an experienced dead detective, leaps from a man to a rat, then to a dog. Wow. Cross-species sensory travelling and Herring doesn’t disappoint. Now I know why some dogs bark all the time – they are possessed!
A line I’m sure many of us on Earth can relate to is when the policeman ‘used his remote as a weapon against commercials’. I wish I’d written that.
Overall, in spite of Earthly tragedies, we have the joyful theme that all good people make it to ‘Heaven’, whatever that is. This limbo novel has much to recommend it. See purchasing details here.