Dead Good Detectives by Jenny McLachlan

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

The chief characters Sidonie (Sid) and Zennor (Zen) are good detectives- but definitely not dead, as the title suggests. It is a clever play on words, where ‘dead’ means, in current vernacular, excellent; but, at the same time, the clients for Sid and Zen are actually dead and fast fading away. They are ghosts.

In Jenny McLachlan’s latest book, the two friends live in the seaside town of Fathom, on the east coast of England. It’s deep and treacherous waters have claimed shipwrecks, one being the Black Gannet. Three hundred years ago, it struck the rocks there and many perished.

The two children, eleven-year-olds, have a special friendship. Each respects the other’s quirks. Sid is fascinated by maps – she has drawn a detailed one of Fathom.

Zen is a nerd and his esoteric knowledge often comes in handy. Both are keenly observant – a handy quality for detective work!

They live to ‘hang out’ in the old graveyard with its lichen covered decaying tombstones and dank, silent atmosphere.

There, Sid discovers an ancient stone half hidden by ivy that commemorates Ezekiel Kittow 1678-1721. He appears, as a tall floating spectre. She soon learns he was a pirate who prefers to be called Bones.  As pirates often do, Bones has a parrot, Elizabeth. He also is searching for treasure with the help of a very basic map.  He had escaped from Halfway House, an old mausoleum nearby, where other ghosts are prisoners.

Bones, tall and thin with a freezing aura, is only visible to Sid. He is gradually vanishing to the point where he’ll become a wraith.  To prevent this, the friends must find the treasure. Urgency increases as does their determination to succeed.

Dead Good Detectives is long, 400 pages, However, diverting illustrations by Chloe Dominique that appear regularly are both a fine companion to the text as well as a lightening the gloom of graveyards and dead pirates…

With the exception of Old Scratch, an irascible old villain, Sid and Zen strive to free the prisoners in the mausoleum. As ghosts, they can float about with ease, but are powerless to exert any strength.

As the novel progresses it becomes more exciting and the thrill of the hunt for the supposed gold and emeralds turn into a gripping page-turner.  Young readers will also love the friendly ghosts, pirate exploits and historic anecdotes. They will become aware of the differences between the 18th century and their own 21st.  Aspects of contemporary life, mobile phones, television and cars fascinate the pirate, Bones.

The enduring popularity of dark tales is an additional reason for assuming that Dead Good Detectives will please many readers. It is beautifully told, with a puzzle to solve, a quest to follow and action and humour to boot!

It is bound to be hugely successful novel for children of late primary.

Dead Good Detectives


by Jenny McLachlan

Harper Collins

ISBN 978 140529 815 5

$16.99; 288pp


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