The threat of imminent shutdown prompts a small government agency to hire a pair of young independent contractors to capture a ghost in this British import.
On the way to a pleasantly tidy ending, Shearer delivers some comical chills and twists, but he takes too long to set them up. Driven by a blustering government cost-cutter’s ultimatum, the four (or five, counting the cat) remaining members of the antique Ministry of Ghosts—originally founded in 1792 to determine whether spirits are bunkum or real—decide a fresh approach is needed. The “help wanted” card they place in the dusty window of their ramshackle building draws two students from the local school: strong-minded Thruppence Coddley, daughter of a fishmonger, and timorous but game classmate Tim Legge, both white. The author salts his tale liberally with subtle clues and oddly quaint characters, and he eventually arrives at some startling (for unobservant readers, at least) revelations. But aside from brief mentions in a prologue, the two young people don’t even show up to get the ghost hunting under way until seven wordy introductory chapters have trundled slowly by, filled with eye-glazing exchanges and daily routines in an office where nothing much has changed in decades.
Ghost-story fans won’t be disappointed in the end, if they can slog that far through all the low-wattage civil-service satire. (Fantasy. 10-12)