*This review will contain spoilers!*
This is the second murder mystery young adult novel I've read in the last week (following on from my review of 'Don't Look Back' by Jennifer L. Armentrout) and I'm happy to say that, out of the two, this one is much, much better one.
We start 'The Dead Girl's Detective Agency' with Charlotte Feldman, a girl who has just been murdered by being pushed under a train on the subway. She wakes up in the Hotel Atessa, a mid-way point for murdered teenagers to solve their murders before they can move on to the other side (whether that be Heaven, Hell or reincarnation we don't actually know). Charlotte meets the other residents of Hotel Atessa: Nancy, the nerdy one, Lorna, the ditzy blonde obsessed with clothes, and Tess, the moody one who seems to hate Charlotte for no discernible reason. Charlotte is told that she now has to solve her murder in order to receive her key for The Big Red Door - a, you guessed it, door that leads to the other side - and to receive eternal peace.
Understandably, Charlotte isn't too happy. She's sixteen and she's dead, something that's not going to go down too well with anybody, but on top of that her "committed" boyfriend, David, is making out with all of the cheerleaders in their school and there's a bad boy at Hotel Atessa, Edison, making her feel uncomfortable and useless even in her afterlife.
I will admit that I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. The ghosts have lots of powers that they can draw upon, such as apparition and transportation, but when Edison starts teaching Charlotte the ability to kick, jab and throw her words into people's mouths to cause them to speak them with no choice, that was the moment that I thought this book got truly interesting. The first hundred-ish pages are more about establishing the world that they're living in, letting us know the capabilities and limitations that these spirits face compared to other ghostly novels, but after that's properly established and the investigation begins Suzy Cox's writing really shines.
The investigation itself is dealt with extremely interestingly; they don't add to the list of suspects until they've crossed the previous names off, meaning that the pool of suspects is small, and we don't get any clue to who the actual murderer could have been until nearing the last hundred pages of the novel. If anyone managed to work it out before the agency manages to I'd be extremely surprised, because it's very cleverly written in that the murderer isn't even a focal point until so close to the climax of the novel.
Furthermore, the majority of the characters are great, and the ones that I didn't like were still written well (even though all of the cheerleaders seemed to blur into one perfectly manicured blob because they were all very similar). Charlotte is the right brand of pessimistic and sarcasm to make her seem pissed off at the world but not petulant and bratty, while Lorna might be an air-head but she shows that she's a caring person and she can pay attention when she really needs to. Nancy might obey the rules to the letter, but she's super endearing as well - even when she seems to be getting judgmental about Charlotte's decisions she's never pushy, just trying to make sure the best is done for everyone. Similarly, Charlotte's living friend Ali is really well written, making me wish we'd picked up on the story a few months before Charlotte had died, but I do think that the fact that we jump straight in on the action is one of the best moments of this novel; you dive in at the deep end, so you have to learn to adjust just as much as Charlotte does. Tess isn't the nicest, but by the end of the novel you're pushed to the point of almost empathising with her even though she does the most terrible thing in the world by stealing Charlotte's key and leaving her trapped at the Hotel Atessa for the rest of eternity, and Edison has a lot of potential to be worked upon later in the next novel.
The back stories are really well developed (apart from Tess's, which left me feeling a little bit irritated at the end of the novel, as we don't know how she died or what had pushed her to such a feeling of despair that she needed to go to such terrible actions) and I'm glad that there is a second novel because I really want to know more about these characters - to see whether Lorna or Nancy ever decide to go on to the other side or if Edison and Charlotte sort out their relationship and decide to start dating all spooky style. I'd also like to see whether Charlotte ever went to visit her parents; I can understand why she didn't just after her death, but surely you would want to visit the people you cared about if you were hanging around invisibly for days upon days.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. Yes, there are a few grammatical and spelling errors throughout the novel, but it's more towards the second half which means it didn't destroy my enjoyment of it too completely, and there are a few incidents that left me feeling confused (at the climax of the novel when Charlotte is so confused that Tess and Edison know each other, even though she'd discussed it with Lorna at a point earlier in the novel, or how they all magically know each other's surnames - I could understand the ghosts who had already been at the hotel knowing Charlotte's, because they received a letter announcing to them that she was coming, but how she knew all of their's without them being introduced was just assumed away, or in which time it was set; with Tess saying she'd been trapped there for six years and Edison saying he'd been running around back in 1991, even though they knew each other when they were alive, and Lorna wearing a 2006 dress and having been there for a few years, I don't know when it was set because there were just too many crossed wires) but other than that it was a really enjoyable read, with plenty of ghostly hi-jinks mixed in with the detective work. I can't wait to read the second book, 'Dead Girl's Walking' to see whether it's better without all of the establishment at the start of the novel, but overall this novel was pretty good even with the confusion that I felt towards the end.