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by Matt Haig
Viking, February 2007
336 pages
ISBN: 0670038334

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Itís tough enough being 11 years old without having oneís father die. Then to have him show up at his own funeral, a bloody but unbowed ghost as it were, really sets a kid Ė already a loner Ė way out on the fringes of his world. This is what happens to Philip Noble. His father tells Philip that uncle Alan has murdered him because Uncle Alan wants Philipís mother and the pub she now owns.

The ghost of Philipís father wants uncle Alan murdered, because thatís the only way a ghost can move on: his death must be avenged. If his death is not avenged, the ghost is stuck in The Terrors.

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, thereís a reason. THE DEAD FATHERS CLUB bears no small resemblance to HAMLET. This is intentional. And it could be a disaster, but in the capable hands of Matt Haig, this knock-off works.

There is an Ophelia, of course. Leah is the daughter of Alanís silent partner in his garage, a religious widow named Mr Fairview. Leah is a little older than Philip is chronologically, and sometimes (as so often happens at that age) sheís years older than him in terms of experience and poise.

Haig seems to have captured the angst and foibles of a male pre-teen fairly well, although itís been a long time since I was that age and Iíve never been male, so perhaps itís all wrong. But it feels right, at least the part about losing a parent at that age (and Iíve been there). As a result of actions his father asks and/or tells him to take, Philipís world is even more vastly different at the end of THE DEAD FATHERS CLUB than he thought possible.

I have some minor quibbles about the legal consequences to Philip for his actions; the things he does (for whatever reasons) also make me wonder about his psyche and the long-term physical and emotional damage he leaves in his wake. THE DEAD FATHERS CLUB should make for interesting discussions. Iíd like to have a teacher, a cop, and a psychologist in the group, thatís for sure.

While the HAMLET connection is never lost, Haig takes the story in a direction all his own and the reader is compelled to go along for the ride. Matt Haig is a writer whose work Iíll be tracking down as it comes out.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, March 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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