City of the Dead (The Haunting of Derek Stone, Book 1)
by Tony Abbott
- VOYA: 3Q3P M
- Reading level: Ages 9-12
- Mass Market Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks (January 1, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0545034299
- ISBN-13: 978-0545034296
Derek Stone lives with his father and brother, Ronny, in New Orleans. Their lives are pretty ordinary; Derek is a bit overweight and has trouble with the hearing in his left ear, Ronny is older and still lives at home, their mother moved away to Paris years ago, and their father collects toy trains. It is on a trip home from a train convention in Alexandria, Louisiana, that everything suddenly becomes a little bizarre. As the train heads back to the Big Easy, a bridge gives out over Bordelon Gap plummeting the train car into the Red River more than one hundred feet below. Derek is one of the few survivors. Soon after he returns home under the care of his uncle Carl from Oregon, Derek’s brother Ronny is found and comes home as well. Something is definitely different about him, though. After the shock wears off, though, Derek is convinced that Ronny isn’t who he seems to be at all. When he follows him to an old bar, Derek meets an elderly blues man who tells him that Ronny’s body has been inhabited by a guard who was killed on that same bridge many years before. Soon Derek is being hunted by more reanimated victims of the crash and he retreats to New Orleans’ City of the Dead, an ancient cemetery that houses his family tomb. As he puts the pieces together, Derek realizes that the dead won’t rest until they find him and the solution seems to involve an old family friend’s home in the country, Bayou Malpierre, where he had a near death experience many years before. As this installment ends, Derek and Ronny flee the City of the Dead to find Bonton Fouks and his home, Bayou Malpierre.
Derek is likable and his mistrust of the situation is well expressed. The brutal death of his father and brother may be too much for younger readers, especially as Derek explores their deaths at a local morgue. The atmosphere of the story is suitably gothic and dark, and Derek’s narration contains the spunky, adventurous spark important to draw readers into a rather grim subject. The best character in this installment, however, is clearly the city of New Orleans itself. The people, culture, architecture, and history of the city plays a very important role in the story and readers with an interest in the area will enjoy the use of location. Particularly effective is the use of architectural details like the faux chambre. Abbott’s style is interesting and the premise is certainly intriguing, but despite a strong narrator, the story seems labored at times. Male readers in particular may find the characters and storyline promising. This installment leads right into a sequel that promises to answer many of the questions that remain.