FULL DISCLOSURE – Ross Young is a friend of a friend, who happens to be a writer. Actually, it’s a neighbour and friend – if we’re going to get nit-picky about it – who asked if I’d be interested in checking out this new novel. As he is a chap with impeccable taste, I enthusiastically agreed and then forgot all about the book for a ~mere~ matter of months…because I’m awesome like that.
Dead Heads is the first in the Gloomwood series by Ross Young.
Augustan Blunt is a washed out cop with a bad attitude, a drinking problem and a troubled past. Oh, he’s also dead but that’s okay – so is everyone else. Other than that things are just peachy.
Someone has stolen the Grim Reaper’s head and Blunt has been told to find it. In a new city where the rules of the living don’t apply; Blunt’s up to his neck in the brown stuff and he’s never been much of a swimmer. With the aid of a woman who keeps turning involuntarily invisible; a journalist who hasn’t written an article since she died and a bureaucrat who can’t say no to anyone – Blunt’s got to stop whoever is stealing the heads of the city’s elite.
As he begins his investigations he finds things aren’t all they seem. Who are the Gloomwood Youth Order? What do you call the murder of someone already dead? Why are people having their heads chopped off? And what is in the hot dogs? With time slipping away he needs to learn what makes the city tick before there’s no city left.
Gloomwood is a city for the dead – founded by no-less illustrious a personage than the Grim Reaper* himself – as the final resting places for dead people, gods, ideas and concepts. The Grim Reaper is the de-facto ruler, key holder and all round nice guy. His very visage stirs fear in the hearts of the newly dead and respect in those a little better acquainted, so it comes as a bit of a shock to the Office of the Dead when someone decapitates him and steals his head.
Augustan Blunt – an old school detective with a bad attitude, a nasty case of alcoholism** and a propensity to hate everything and everyone – is promptly recruited by Crispin Neat to find the Grim Reapers head and the culprit before any of the Gloomwood residents cotton on…about 12 hours after Blunt’s own untimely demise.
Gloomwood is grey, unsatisfying and decidedly weird.It’s also proof positive that death isn’t always the worst case scenario.
Blunt is a joy! I kept waiting for him to grate on me; as his rudeness, dissatisfaction with the world(s) in general and entitlement alienated him from everyone in the book…but it didn’t happen. Though he is Obnoxious (capital O there); I really enjoyed his cynical and bleak view of the world. It’s hard not to feel a certain degree of sympathy for someone who has had every negative assumption he’s ever made in life confirmed…and then has to do it all over again in death! Even better – he knows that he’s a jerk and takes his various snubs, beatings and general abuse as his due with a wry stoicism.
Blunt finds himself in Gloomwood to solve a very particular crime. Though it’s not really alluded too in much detail; I think that his demise felt a little too convenient and I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out there was some hanky-panky relating to the how’s and the when’s in future stories!
His right hand man – Ralph Mortimer; I was a bit more up and down about. Initially I just loved him, but his meek manner did slightly irritate me in the middle. Nevertheless, I was delighted to find that he had a spectacularly glorious looking wife. Hey, I’m not saying that they’re happy, but it was so satisfying that Ralph had *something* in his life that left everyone around him speechless with envy and surprise, as he is portrayed as such a worm.
There are also hints that Ralph might have more to him than meets the eye…though I’m not sure he’d enjoy the realisation that it is in fact Blunt that brings out the best in him.
Sarah Von Faber – the barely there forensic expert – provides the final member of Blunt’s working crew. Her intangibility aside (an unfortunate side effect of an experiment gone awry), Sarah is easily one of the more intelligent members of the Gloomwood community and her astute observations and sarcasm ensure than she is a vital team member, rather than a conveniently creepy plot device. Indeed her special skills are far more often a hindrance than a help.
Quite a bit of writing is devoted to setting the scene and Gloomwood is more than a mere geographical oddity – the land is as much a character within this book as Sarah or Ralph or the Reaper. For Blunt, solving the mystery depends on his rapidly coming to terms with his new environment. I wish so much that I had one of those special edition illustrated hard back versions because I would have LOVED to see long lost hopes and dreams (such as the perennially depressed embodiment of the Earth is flat belief or Petal) illustrated! eBooks are awesome… but those colour plates of my youth are hard not to miss!
It’s a great initial idea, – a murder set in the afterlife – and is well executed for the most part, though the pedant in me has to point out that in the kindle edition I read, there were a few grammatical errors and structural mis-fires that interrupted the narrative flow. Honestly, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me as much if the main wasn’t written so well.
I found the first few chapters to be gripping but also utterly discordant – I couldn’t understand how they would all link up to one another, or if indeed that was even the goal of the book! While it all works out beautifully – I think that it would have been a bit off-putting if I hadn’t been so cheerful in general that week! Talk about feeling thrown in the deep end from the first page.
Perseverance brings rewards and joy, boys and girls!
The mystery is very well drawn out indeed – while this is ostensibly a straight-forward whodunit; the set up of the world and the potential abilities of the plethora of very individualistic characters ups the game considerably. Once you read the ending you immediately see the sense of it, but I hadn’t a clue what was coming – my favourite state to finish a book!
For all that; this is a book that I would only carefully recommend. If you’re a fan of Tom Holt, Neil Gaiman or Terry Prachett – you’ll probably do just fine. However, it is as weird as it is wonderful and I don’t think I’d pass onto someone morally opposed to SF or fantasy!
Two sentence summary:
Despite the weird and wacky sounding set up outlined above; this read to me as primarily a character driven SF book. The mystery is – you know – the point, but it’s the humour and drive of the characters that keeps you reading.
The second in the Gloomwood series – Get Ted Dead – will be out soon…
*Best. Backstory. Ever.
My new definitive history for the Grim Reaper.
**I assume that future books are going to explain where the heck the food and drink turns up from?! Although maybe I’d be better off not knowing. The possibilities are rather grotesque. The hot dog question I think I’ll avoid! *shudder*