Book Review: “Johnny and the Dead” by Terry Pratchett

January 23, 2018

Of all the people in Blackbury, UK, who could have suddenly developed the ability to see ghosts, it would just have to be Johnny Maxwell. Next to his friends – Yo-less the uncool black kid, fat Wobbler, and a delinquent skinhead named Bigmac – he doesn’t stand out in any way. He isn’t strong, clever, good-looking, or full of personality. He just quietly takes what life hands him, which isn’t much. Yet the weird stuff always happens to him. And what makes him weird is that he’s always open to it.

So it happens that, just when the city fathers of Blackbury are planning to let a big corporation build a high-rise office building over the historical town cemetery, Johnny starts seeing dead people. Walking around like regular people. And he isn’t scared one bit.

Inspired by Johnny, the ghosts go on a round-the-world spiritual bender. Meanwhile, Johnny, the past master of sitting in the back of the room and doing nothing to get noticed, stands up in a public meeting and starts firing tough questions at the aldermen.

Why should the city care about those buried in its graveyard? No one really famous lies there. There’s the alderman whose major accomplishment was installing a horse trough in the High Street, just in time for the town’s first automobile to crash into it. There’s the political activist who would have been Karl Marx if Karl Marx hadn’t been Karl Marx, and whose epitaph reads “WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNIT” because there wasn’t enough money to carve the final E. There’s an inventor, a suffragette, an Einstein, and an escape artist who pulled off his most death-defying act “almost once,” but there’s no one whose name alone can save the graveyard. Johnny argues that the living folks of Blackbury need the graveyard for themselves.

It’s a thought-provoking story. The ghosts are simultaneously wistful and hilarious. Johnny and his friends make a charming combination of characters with an entertaining patter between them. Though this second installment in the Johnny Maxwell trilogy isn’t quite up to the level of the other two, it’s a solid piece of fantasy entertainment. It even has a character whose mother would probably consider Harry Potter satanic, and it responds to that kind of judgment without becoming judgmental itself. To know Johnny Maxwell is to love him and his friends. So, though it’s less spooky than you might wish, Johnny and the Dead is not to be missed.

For your further reading, Book 1 of this trilogy is Only You Can Save Mankind. Book 3 is Johnny and the Bomb.

Interested? Buy a copy here.