January 17, 2024

Night of the Living Zed

Written by Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester
HarperCollins Canada
256 pp.
Ages 8-12
January 16 2024
Sure, everyone gets ready for Christmas. There's the tree decorating, the shopping, the baking. But what about the "super-duper-stupendousest of all holidays" (pg. 3): Halloween! Zed Watson, star of Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester's highly-acclaimed first collaboration The Fabulous Zed Watson! (2021) is all about Halloween, so it's going to be a shame if they miss it because they're heading out of town with best friend Gabe to solve the mystery of Glyndebourne Manor, the house once owned by the rich and famous opera costume and set designer, Charlotte Scherrer. But it's all in support of a good cause: getting a reward that could help elevate the upcoming nuptials of Gabe's sister Sam and partner Jo.

So, determined to spend the required 3 days and 2 nights in the supposedly-haunted house and search for Charlotte's treasure, Zed and Gabe set off on October 29, hopeful of solving the mystery before Halloween. Well, Zed is convinced of it. Gabe is less sure about it, but the operatic flavour of decorations in Charlotte's century-old, 4-storey house gets him interested. Things become more complicated when the rules state that they must move from room to room but never exiting through the door they entered. Only by solving complicated clues related to Charlotte's life and memorabilia do Zed and Gabe have any chance of making it through this challenge. Of course, there's also the ghosts and copious booby traps to trick them, so solving the mystery is a lot less obvious than finding a pile of gold.
With humour and compassion, the two friends, face each challenge head on. They carefully scrutinize curious rooms filled with opera collectibles, they construct maquettes, they read personal journal entries, and they piece together Charlotte's life to help them uncover hidden means of egress. But, as long as the ghosts don't impede their progress and they don't runaway, they've got a good chance to find...something?

Night of the Living Zed has all the colour of Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester's first book, The Fabulous Zed Watson!, but it's a fresh new mystery with a different set of characters. Readers will be pleased to visit again with the quirky Zed and Gabe, a pair of young friends with strong but different personalities.  There's non-binary Zed who approaches life at break-neck speed, enthusiastic about vampires and ghosts, eager to interact with the supernatural, and lover of all things Halloween. Gabe is less forward, but still fascinated by and knowledgeable about opera and plants, and loves playing the piano and wearing multi-pocketed clothes. And he's a little ghost-shy. In addition to a host of regulars, like Ph. D. candidates Sam and Jo, and a plethora of named inanimate objects–there's Sam's vehicle Carssandra, Zed's stuffed jackalope Aloysius, and their pumpkin nightlight Willoughby–readers meet Bertie and Hyacinth who are Charlotte's relatives, and a pair of treasure seekers called Soraya and Dean (often called Dan by Bertie).

The characters are wacky and the dialogue between them is priceless. It's this humour, including their gaffes that take Night of the Living Zed from mystery to a romping good time. From doing their Halloween-O-ween inspection–and learning Mrs. Gianelli is upgrading from licorice sticks to candy bars–or Gabe explaining to Zed that "i.e." is Latin for "Id est" and they answer, "You dest? What's a 'dest'?"(pg. 80), there's a rich but underlying humour that will make readers smile and laugh out loud. And then there's the mystery. It is not easily solved, neither by Zed and Gabe nor the readers, so we have to hang in through all the ups and downs, and twists and turns, to get our "Aha!" moment.

I know it's a long way off until Halloween–maybe we can look at January as pre-pre-pre-Halloween-O-ween–but a mystery is a great read anytime, and Night of the Living Zed is a great one. With their open heart and enthusiasm for life and for exploring the unknown, Zed can take us and Gabe along on any new adventure they want, ghosts or no ghosts.
The Fabulous Zed Watson (2021)
Night of the Living Zed (2024)

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