October 24, 2013

Dial "M" for Morna: The Dead Kid Detective Agency, Book 2

by Evan Munday
ECW Press
296 pp.
Ages 8-13
October, 2013

Dial "M" for Morna and for middle-grade, murder, mystery and for Munday, author Evan Munday, whose first book The Dead Kid Detective Agency (ECW Press, 2011) was shortlisted for the Silver Birch award and Sunburst Award for Young Adult Speculative Fiction.  In this sequel, Evan Munday has October Schwartz starting to make good on her promise to help solve the mysteries of the deaths of her five dead accomplices: Morna MacIsaac, Cyril Cooper,  Tabetha Scott, Kirby LaFlamme, and Derek Running Water.  First up: Morna, who died when she was thirteen years old in 1914 while living with her family at the Crooked Arms boarding house in their town of Sticksville.

With the help of the new history teacher and museum volunteer, Ms. Fenstermacher, October locates the old Crooked Arms and learns the identities and backgrounds of its former residents.  Amongst the MacIsaac's neighbours were an alleged traitor, an inventor, a suffragette, and a doctor, and, with input from a woman who speaks to October through a disconnected old-fashioned phone, the living teen delves into Morna's demise.

Meanwhile, in October's living world, her friends Yumi and Stacey earn a slot deejaying on the school radio station. While they know that Devin McGriff, member of the Phantom Moustache band and boyfriend of queen bee Ashlie Salmons, is enraged for losing out to them, a spate of hostilities couched in racist remarks catches Yumi, Stacey and October by surprise.

Luckily, October is able to breach both worlds to help solve Morna's death and the attacks staged against Yumi.  And, with a couple of surprise connections and revelations, Evan Munday left me (and undoubtedly all other readers) longing to learn more about Mr. Santuzzi and Fairfax Crisparkle and anticipating Book 3 in the series.

Past or present, there are a lot of nasty people around making others' lives miserable, willing to murder for their own needs, and directed by fears, arrogance and greed (and maybe even magic here). But with the Dead Kid Detective Agency (i.e., October and her deceased cohorts), wrongs are righted, the guilty are identified and justice is anticipated.  Evan Munday will draw you in so subtly that you'll be snagged before you realize it.  However, never think that you are just a reader, the vesicle into which words are poured from the page, when reading Dial "M" for MornaEvan Munday breaks down the fifth wall, speaking directly to his audience of young readers, enlightening them, reassuring them, humouring them, apologizing, and even hinting at plot developments.
You can expect the same kind of madcap exploits featured in book one – our plucky heroine with a penchant for black eyeliner and her five most deadest BFFs uncovering dark secrets that will rock the quiet town of Sticksville to its secretly rotten core and doing so in the zaniest possible manner. (pg. 11)
Watch for font changes to help determine whether the narrator is October or a third person (a.k.a. Evan Munday). And be prepared to enjoy Evan Munday's dry wit which he doles out generously in his subplots, his action scenes, and the voices and foibles of his characters.  While answers to the big questions i.e., "How did Morna die?" and "Who is harrassing Yumi?" are inevitable, don't expect all plot lines to find closure.  The beginnings of new mysteries, ready to be solved by The Dead Kid Detective Agency, are embedded, leaving clues sure to bear fruitful storylines. 

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