Full disclosure: I absolutely adored the first book in this series. So much so that as early as last year, at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, I bugged the author to tell me when Book 2 would be published. Then, in May, I happened to meet his publicist at another author’s book launch, and again I bugged her for the release date of Book 2. She agreed to send me an ARC, and yes, I’m afraid I emailed her a week later to follow up and she admitted the ARCs weren’t even ready for mailing yet. So, to author Evan Munday and to his publicist: my apologies. I’m not a creepy stalker reader fan, I promise. But really, you publish a book about a Scooby gang of dead kids and a goth tween named October who is writing a book called Two Knives, One Thousand Demons, you do expect some rabid fangirling, don’t you?
Full disclosure number two: I already want to read Book 3.
Dial “M” for Morna picks up about a few weeks after the events in Dead Kid Detective Agency. The next full moon is coming up and October is no closer to fulfilling her promise of solving the mystery behind Morna’s death. And as if solving a 100-year-old murder mystery weren’t challenging enough, October’s friend Yumi finds herself the target of anti-Asian harassment at school.
In my review of Dead Kid, I said that the mystery was more Scooby Doo than Agatha Christie — not much of a puzzle, but still an awesome ride. Munday sharpens his mystery writing skills with this volume, which is much more atmospheric than the last one. With the help of an awesome young history teacher (a Battlestar Galactica fan who wears Buddy Holly glasses), October uses a microfilm station to research Morna’s life. Yes, a microfilm. I’ve never used one (librarians, please tell me they still exist!), but the reference did take me back to Sweet Valley and Elizabeth Wakefield. I loved the historical research — October finds an old diary, a war memento, and other items that just thrill my geeky little heart. Seriously, that’s my type of mystery. Even the contemporary mystery about racial harassment has more of a Nancy Drew feel than the last book, and what Munday gives up in terms of madcap hilarity, he more than makes up for in a deeper, more complex mystery.
Dial “M” also features a mysterious, pre-rotary dial phone in the abandoned boarding house where Morna used to live. For some reason, it only works for October, and a voice on the other end provides her with cryptic clues along the way. I’ll be honest: this supernatural Deep Throat completely freaked me out. And when you’re a thirty year old woman huddling under the covers, terrified of having nightmares from a book written for 9-12 year olds, well, it’s rather tough on the ol’ ego. According to the author, “That phone was inspired by one of the more terrifying episodes of The Twilight Zone I remember from my youth.” Munday does manage to capture that Twilight Zone feel, at least for this reader, and I was never more glad to see the jokey narrator come in and break the mood.
There were some things I didn’t quite like in this book. First: the big reveal about Stacey Whatshisname’s last name. From October’s utter inability to remember it for over a book and a half, I was expecting something like Spock’s last name, so Stacey’s last name turned out to be a letdown. I do see the point in concealing it, plot-wise, but I still didn’t think it was necessary. The other point didn’t bother me so much as puzzle me, and I know it was the same with the first book, but for some reason, I wondered more about it with this one: why split the narration between October and the unnamed narrator? I like both narrative voices, but the assigning of narrative to one or the other seems mostly arbitrary.
Ultimately though, there are two things that make the Dead Kid series so awesome: Munday’s wit and unexpected moments of tenderness. I love the bit about Morna’s crush, and the scene where she asks for a vest almost made me tear up. I love the scene where October, who doesn’t approve of her father’s current girlfriend, asks him if he’s happy. I especially love the romance I sense (or perhaps wish for) beginning to develop between Yumi and Stacey (go, Stacey, go!). Surrounded as they are by creepy telephones and throwaway wisecracks, these moments stand out, and the story is richer for them. And as for the wit, well, here’s something to take with you next winter: “the snow was fiercer than Tyra Banks’s stare.” [p. 241]
As the two mysteries begin to wrap up, a larger mystery begins to emerge, one that seems like it will span the rest of the series. In true Evan Munday style, this larger mystery promises to end up Buffy the Vampire Slayer type epic. That’s awesome enough to make me almost forgive having to wait several more books before seeing it resolved. Almost. Finally, Munday ends on a hell of a cliffhanger, which means that once again, I’m ridiculously excited to read Book 3. When I tweeted him about the ending, he responded: “I’m the worst, right?” Well yes, yes you are, Mr. Munday, and as a fan of the series, all I can say it, thank god for that.
Thank you to ECW Press for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.