Mr. Lapsewood is a dull but dutiful civil servant. He's also a ghost. When he gets forced out of his comfortable loop, he's not quite sure what to do. Sam Toop is an undertaker's son who can talk to ghosts, but that doesn't help him find out his father's secrets any faster, or protect him from his villainous uncle. Eventually, the two meet and must figure out a way to stop the Black Rot, a dangerous infestation that is destroying ghosts and could move on to the living at any time.
At almost four hundred pages, and with each chapter featuring a different protagonist or event, this novel isn't for the reluctant or fainthearted reader. It's not exactly a scary book, although it features ghosts and nameless horrors and not a few dead bodies. It is, in fact, exactly what the author describes it as being; an inspiration from Victorian ghost stories and of course Dickens' London. Like historical London, it's a rather wandering story, drifting from one historical snippet to another and gaily tossing in new characters wherever a spare place presents itself. The action doesn't start building to a climax until nearly the final chapter and the final denouement falls a bit flat, as if the author was having so much fun writing the book he forgot he was going to have to end it at some point.
Verdict: All that being said, I really enjoyed this book. I wouldn't recommend it to Neil Gaiman fans, as the back copy suggests, but Eva Ibbotson fans definitely. It isn't for the average reader, but if you have a child who is a voracious devourer of words and likes to sink into a world with lots of interesting characters, villains, and a little spookiness along the way, this will be a perfect gift. It's not something I'll purchase for my library, since I can't get anyone to read Eva Ibbotson and I only have a few kids who will pick up books of this length, but if you have a larger audience (and budget) go for it.
ISBN: 9781419707827; Published October 2013 by Amulet/Abrams; ARC provided by the publisher at ALA annual 2013