Constable & Toop

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
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Thrilling ghost adventure has great characters, plus gore.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Constable & Toop relates information about Victorian England including city and country life, entertainment, and pub culture.

Positive Messages

The contrast between Sam and his uncle, Jack, shows how anyone with a special gift or talent should use that power thoughtfully to do good.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sam is caring and wise beyond his years. He shows young people how important it is to consider consequences before acting. Mr. Constable offers Sam insight and guidance and teaches him, by example, to understand others rather than to judge them.


Some of the violence in Constable & Toop occurs off the page, such as explanations of how humans died and became "ghost-born." However, even in cases where the reader doesn't "see" a crime committed, there's graphic, residual evidence: Ghosts have seeping wounds where throats were slashed, or bloody aprons, or parts of their heads blown off. There's also ghost-type violence wherein spirits are torn apart and suffer horribly, plus a few brutal on-screen incidents including a knife fight. On-screen or off-, there's lots of blood and pain.


Sam has romantic feelings for Clara. One time, he puts his arms around her waist to protect her. Clara's parents kiss once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some human adults drink (and a couple get drunk) in a pub. Jack asks Sam to buy him whiskey. Ghosts become intoxicated by drinking "spirit ale."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Constable & Toop is a thrilling, adventurous horror novel from Gareth P. Jones, author of the The Dragon Detective Agency and Ninja Meerkats series. Jones invents a complex, dangerous ghost realm -- with its own government, laws, and jobs -- that coexists with the living, human world. In both the physical world and the spirit one, there are heroes and villains and lots of violence, from gory after-the-fact details about people's deaths (ghosts have seeping wounds where throats were slashed, or bloody aprons, or parts of their heads blown off) to ghosts being brutally ripped apart to stabbing murders and a knife fight. This a wonderful, original novel, and the level of violence is not excessive or gratuitous in the context of the story, but it's not for the squeamish.

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What's the story?

CONSTABLE & TOOP is an undertaker business named after its owners in the town of Honor Oak outside of London. Constable interacts with grieving families while carpenter Charles Toop builds the coffins. Toop and his son, Sam, live above the shop, where Sam helps with the business. Sam also has a unique talent: He can speak with ghosts and often aids spirits who left unfinished business in the living world. Meanwhile, Lapsewood is a clerk in the spirit world, a paper-pusher who's suddenly transferred to the job of \"Prowler,\" a visitor to the living world who helps find and arrest defiant \"rogue ghosts.\" By different routes, Sam and Lapsewood discover that a horrible disease called the Black Rot is infesting buildings of London, threatening spirits and humans alike. They become more and more desperate to eradicate this affliction before it claims more souls. Lovable Sam, a throat-slashing murderer, a lonely young girl, and a host of colorful spirits choose sides in a power struggle for control of the afterlife.

Is it any good?

Constable & Toop is delightful and exciting on every level, as an original adventure, a scary horror story, and an engaging character study. Jones performs a rare feat by creating a complex yet relatable supernatural world that works because his characters are so charming and well-formed. The race to stop the Black Rot takes plenty of twists and turns, but those characters ground the action, and Jones' short chapters allow readers to take the action in small bites so they never lose their way. The gore level is high in Constable & Toop, but readers who can take that in stride will be richly rewarded by a literary, thrilling ghost story full of one-of-a-kind characters.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about ghost stories. Why do they have such popular appeal for all ages?

  • Adults often talk about protecting kids from "violence in the media." Do you think Constable & Toop is too violent? Why, or why not?

  • If you lived in the world of this novel, would you rather be living or a ghost?

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