Philip Noble is thirteen years old. He lives with his mum above the pub--the Castle and Falcon--that she and his dad ran together before his dad was killed in a car accident. Philip keeps fish and is interested in Roman history. Philip's a pretty normal kid, until his Dad's Ghost (Philip always capitalizes Important Nouns) appears to him at his own funeral. Dad's Ghost tells Philip that his death wasn't an accident, but rather, murder, and that dad's own brother, Uncle Alan, did it. Not only that, but Uncle Alan has designs on Philip's mum.
Does that last bit sound familiar? Yes, The Dead Fathers Club takes its major plot ideas from Hamlet, up to and including Dad's Ghost's plea to Philip--thirteen year old Philip!--to kill Uncle Alan so that Dad can rest in peace. Dad's Ghost tells Philip about the Dead Fathers Club, and shows him the pathetic ghosts of murdered fathers, waiting for their loved ones to exact revenge so they can move on. Oh, and not to put too much pressure on you, son, but dad will suffer The Terrors for all eternity if you don't take care of this.
Kind of a tall order for a scrawny and insecure kid.
The publisher's dust jacket copy calls The Dead Fathers Club "incredibly funny, imaginative, and quirky," and I will grant them imaginative and quirky. Haig has pulled off a real tour de force with this first person narrative; it's perfectly, painfully believable as coming from the mind of a scared little kid. The punctuation is minimal, and the lack of commas and quotation marks create a breathless, headlong rush of a read. Philip's voice is fresh and charming, his use of ALL CAPITALS for emphasis and phonetic renderings of how he hears words or expressions with which he's unfamiliar are sometimes startling and often delightful.
However, this book is only funny if the spectacle of a possibly unhinged child who believes his father's ghost is telling him to commit murder is funny to you. I spent nearly the entire time I was reading hoping fervently that Philip would heed his teacher's advice to "Trust the living Philip. Trust the living."
This review was submitted to Cym Lowell's Book Review Party on October 13, 2010.
2 months ago