The Dead Detective Agency

Image of The Dead Detective Agency
Release Date: 
April 1, 2011
Reviewed by: 

It’s a brave or foolhardy writer who kills the main character in the very first page of their book, believing the reader will continue with the rest of the story rather than simply give up. Few writers manage it. Alice Sebold mastered it in The Lovely Bones. Thankfully, Peg Herring shows the same proficiency in this, her first in a series of books featuring the bizarre but totally original Dead Detective Agency and its many wacky members.

Young secretary Tori Van Camp wakes one morning on a luxurious ocean liner where she is offered whatever a person might desire: food, clothes, recreation, and the companionship of congenial people. But Tori has little or no memory of booking a cruise. What she does have is a vivid recollection of being shot point blank in the chest by an unknown assailant.

With the help of the stunningly handsome Mike and the unnervingly serene Nancy, Tori soon learns the purpose of her voyage on board the luxury liner. Still, she is haunted by the image of the gun, the crack of the shot, and the malevolent face of the shooter. Who wanted her dead, and why?

Determined to find out, Tori enlists the help of Seamus, an eccentric but shrewd detective (that’s right, Seamus the Shamus). Together they embark on an investigation unlike anything Tori ever thought possible. Death is all around— literally—and the future is uncertain, and if Tori does not act quickly, two people she cares about are prime candidates for murder. Unfortunately for Tori, she just can’t get up and leave her new abode to go gallivanting after murderers. That’s Seamus’s job. Besides, only the big man behind the desk, Gabriel, can give the okay. Will he give the okay? Will Tori regret ever asking his permission, to go back to that bloody scene? Will Seamus manage to bring closure to this lost and troubled soul?

The Dead Detective Agency combines belief in the afterlife with the paradoxical uncertainty of survival in the present, and is full of wickedly dark humor combined with regular laugh-out-loud moments.

Ms. Herring’s story-telling ability to keep all the plates spinning effortlessly is genuinely impressive. Masterfully, she takes your conscious mind out of your own world and guides you into the atmospheric surrealism of The Dead Detective Agency, smoothly and expertly, with page-turning ease. The story and writing proceed at a furious, breathtaking pace, and when we finally come to the end of our voyage, it’s with deep regret, as if saying bon voyage to a dear friend we have known and loved for years.

Thankfully, Seamus will be back. The follow-up, Dead for the Money, will be harboring to a bookstore very soon. The Dead Detective Agency looks set to be with us for a very long time indeed. Roll on the sequel.