Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Ministry of Ghosts

22654827Shearer, Alex. The Ministry of Ghosts
3 May 2016, Sky Ponly Press
Copy Provided by Young Adult Books Central

Mr. Beeston, from the Department of Economics, is bound and determined to trim the fat from the budget, so when he finds information about the Ministry of Ghosts, he sets out to see if anything is being accomplished there. What he finds is Mr. Copperstone, who probably should have retired years ago, his able assistants Miss Rolly and Mr. Gibbins, and their flighty secretary, Mrs. Scant. There is also a cat, whose expenses come out of petty cash. Even though there is the pretense of getting work done, there have been no ghosts found or dealt with in the 200 plus years that the ministry has been in existence, which strikes Mr. Beeston as ludicrous. He gives the group two months to find a ghost or they will all be sent to the Department of Sewage or forced to retire. Upon reflection, the group decides that children are the way to lure ghosts, so they post an advertisement in the window of their dusty office. Two students from the nearby school answer it-- Thruppence, whose father owns a local fish store, and Tim, whose family has a woodworking shop that used to make prosthetic legs. The two are glad of a little spending money and investigate ways that they could find ghosts. In the end, they decide it is necessary to fool Mr. Beeston and contrive to fool him into thinking that a ghost has appeared... until they uncover a number of ghosts in an unusual place. 

Shearer, who has written a number of children's books in Great Britain but got his start by writing for television, seems to have a firm grasp on British bureaucracy. The details of the daily routine of the Ministry of Ghosts is rather amusing, as are the eccentricities of the people working there-- Mr. Copperstone takes naps, Miss Rolly writes letters to the newspapers about women's issues, Mr. Gibbins tries to do the crossword puzzle without anyone noticing, and Mrs. Scant is forever offering to make tea that never appears. 

Tim and Thruppence (a nod, perhaps, to Agatha Christie's characters Tommy and Tuppence?) are very modern children thrust into an old fashioned world, but they take their ghost hunting very seriously, investigating the dusty tomes and antiquated equipment in the Ministry, and using their knowledge to find a way to trick Mr. Beeston after their midnight trips to the graveyard yield nothing. 

There is a decided lack of ghosts until the fabulous twist at the end of the book, but this would still be a good choice for readers who enjoyed the work of Eva Ibbotson or Ruth Chew but aren't quite ready for the more violent ghost adventures of Catherine Jink's City of Orphans or Stroud's Lockwood and Company. 

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