Thanks to those lovely people at Much-In-Little, we are able to share a significant look at
‘s Debut novel; The Dead Girls Detective agency.
Being told you’re dead is one thing. But having to solve your own murder? It’s a lot for a girl to take in. Solving the mystery behind your death can be murder.
Charlotte wakes up at Hotel Atessa, home to murdered New York teenagers and HQ of The Dead Girls Detective Agency. Before she has time to adjust to her new, erm, dead self, she’s thrust into the arms of her new afterlife companions, Lorna, Nancy and the cute – if slightly hostile – dead boy, Eddison.
But where does this leave Charlotte and her boyfriend David? Is it possible to have a long-distance relationship from beyond the grave? The only way out of this limbo is to figure out who killed her, or she’ll have to spend eternity here. But who could hate her enough to want her dead?
I looked down at my body. Nope, it was the same as always. I hadn’t imagined myself with train-track marks or anything. Instead I was sitting, all nice and comfortable, on this big, black, squishy leather couch in this hotel lobby.
‘This is a very confusing time. I know that. Which is why I’m here to help you all I can. I’m Nancy, by the way. Nancy Radley. I’m dead too.’
The girl held out her hand. And because I had no better plan of action right then, I smiled and took it. She was super-polite for a figment of my imagination.
‘Now, I think the best way to get you acclimated to the situation is to just throw you in at the deep end. Tell you everything you need to know in one go, then you can absorb it at your own rate.’
Acclimated? Absorb? Dead Girl Nancy must have been working her way through the SAT word list before she
‘Sure.’ I smiled serenely and stood up to follow. I just hoped I’d remember all this when I woke up. David would get a total kick out of my imaginary friend.
‘Come on then, let’s get you up to your room. I’ll fill you in on the way.’
Ha! Here we go. This was totally not right.
‘Room?’ I asked. In what underworld would a ghost actually need a room? This was so dumb. I just wanted to wake up, call David, and dry out Mom’s boots before she realized they were missing. Nancy looked at me with a little smile.
‘Well, to be honest you don’t need a room,’ she said. ‘After all, ghosts don’t sleep. But we figured, seeing as we’ve got this hotel, and there are rooms here, why not give them to people when they arrive? You had a room while you were alive, right? So we give you one when you’re newly dead. We think it makes the transition from that life to this one feel a little less weird. Well, we hope it does.’
‘We? So you’re not alone?’ Jeez, my imagination must be doing overtime. I’d not just dream-invented one ghost but a whole bunch of them.
‘Yes, of course. You’ll meet the others later.’ She opened a door and led me into an elevator. Which also seemed a little stupid. If I were a ghost, surely I’d be able to walk through walls? I tried pinching my arm.
‘Right now you are in the Hotel Attesa, just off Washington Square in New York City,’ Nancy explained. ‘It’s right next to a regular old human hotel. Of course, the Living can’t see the Hotel Attesa, only we can. Otherwise you’d get all these ghost hunters popping in with their electromagnetic detectors or PKE meters or whatever other crap they saw in Ghostbusters trying to prove we exist. Which is the last thing we want – especially when we’ve got such important work to do.’ I pinched again. And again. Nope, still not awake.
Ping! The elevator stopped and Nancy led me down a red-carpeted corridor. I couldn’t help but think that, if I were conscious and this hotel didn’t just exist in my dream, it was exactly the kind of place I’d love to stay in. If my parents didn’t think hotels were ‘a complete waste of our money,’ that is. It was super-classy, old yet pristine.
Nancy opened the door and the room inside was even more gorgeous than the lobby – white walls, antique lights, prints of old Hollywood movie stars in sleek black frames, a sink-into-me bed and floor-to-ceiling windows on one wall. I walked over to the windows, which looked out on Fifth Avenue and the Empire State Building. Wow. Nice imaginary view.
‘Don’t get too excited by the location,’ a high-pitched voice said. I turned around to see a blonde girl standing über-close to me. Another ghost? Awesome. This one was like something from an Abercrombie ad, all glowing skin, Mac-counter makeup, and perfect hair. She wouldn’t look out of place in one of those frames on the wall.
‘Want to know the suckiest thing about the afterlife?’ she asked. ‘It’s all look, look, look, but don’t touch. Like,
there’s all this on our doorstep . . .’ She motioned to the streets below. ‘And us? We can’t even enjoy it.’ She leaned on the window so closely she would have left abreath mark. If she was still breathing, that is. ‘I’m Lorna
by the way.’
This was getting ridiculous. ‘What are you talking about?’ I asked. ‘Oh, Nancy didn’t tell you that little Rule yet? It’s a bummer. Totally and utterly hideous. I mean, there are some great things about being dead: no eating equals no dieting. No more split ends or breakouts. Of course, style-wise, death sucks. The rule is that we ghosts have to spend all our time in whatever outfit we died in. Which as you can see, for me, is a baby-blue Marc Jacobs Spring/Summer ’06 dress. Not a bad choice. I mean, I’d totally be seen dead in it. It’s just that I’ll never get to wear anything else. Ever.’
I looked down at my outfit and saw my gross school uniform: a blue-and-yellow plaid skirt, white shirt, my navy blazer . . . and Mom’s DVF heels. Wouldn’t my favorite Seven jeans and Converse have been more eternity appropriate?
I smiled politely, all the while pinching my arm like a crazy person. Like the worst thing about being dead would be the limited clothing decisions. What about missing your family or your friends or, I don’t know, being alive? Then, on the eighteenth pinch, something in my brain clicked. A memory broke through. When I was on the platform, right before I opened my eyes here in the hotel, I felt something. What was it? A push. In my lower back. So hard I lost my balance. Then there was that scream. And the heat. And then I was here. What if this wasn’t a dream? What if I had been pushed? Right onto the tracks and under the F train. What if . . . what if, like Nancy said, I was dead?
Shut up, Charlotte, I told myself, stepping backward and landing awkwardly on the bed. I mean, come on. There was no tunnel with bright lights at the end, no big pearly gate, no old bearded guy welcoming me in. I held up my hand to the light – I couldn’t suddenly see through it. I hadn’t turned into Casper or anything. ‘So what else do I need to know?’ I asked, trying to play along and make sense of whatever was happening. Maybe this was some elaborate practical joke. ‘I mean, this whole hotel thing is nice and all, but I always thought heaven would be more sitting on a cloud with unlimited Ben and Jerry’s and less downtown fancy hotel.’
‘Sorry, sorry,’ Nancy said, turning her attention back to me. ‘I was getting to that. So here’s the deal.’ She sat on the bed beside me and gave me another of her re – assuring smiles. Worrying, I realized that she had the air of someone who had done this before. A lot.
‘When teenagers die in mysterious circumstances – like you being pushed under that train – they don’t pass straight over to the Other Side, as people do when it’s their natural time to go. Instead, in New York, they come here, to Hotel Attesa—’
‘It’s kinda like a waiting room,’ Lorna interrupted.
‘But adults, they go to this other hotel uptown. It’s, like, way nicer because it’s more modern and it’s nearer the park and whoever decorated it did this thing with pink paint and . . .’
‘Lorna! Be quiet?’ Nancy glared at her friend. Note to self, do not cut Nancy off mid-sentence. ‘While you’re here, you’re stuck. You can’t go over to the Other Side until you’ve worked out who killed you and why. Basically, you need to set things straight before you can move on. And we – me, Lorna, and Tess —’
‘Yes, you so need to meet Tess,’ said Lorna.
‘And Tess.’ Nancy ignored her this time. ‘We’re here too, trying to help out those who come in because, you know, then they might get to the Other Side faster.’
‘Nancy calls us the Dead Girls Detective Agency,’ Lorna said, smoothing down her skirt. ‘And she’s actually proud of it.’
I tried to focus. Maybe, just maybe, if this actually was some big, stupid, fainty dream, if I solved my murder, I’d wake up. Like, it was a coma and not a dream. Ohmigod, if I was in a coma my mom was going to freak. And she was going to know I stole her boots.
‘So this Other Side,’ I said, trying to stay calm. ‘If we figure out who killed me, how do I get there?’
‘Through the Big Red Door,’ said a new voice behind me. I spun around to see a brunette standing in the doorway. She was not channeling Nancy’s reassuring smile or the kindness in Lorna’s eyes. Instead she looked bored. As if she’d been here a million times before and couldn’t care less. I wondered how long she’d been standing there, just listening.
‘That’s Tess,’ Lorna said, checking out her cuticles.
‘She’s been here the longest of all of us girls. Tess is the best, but she can be kind of . . .’
Nancy shot Lorna another look and gave me an eye roll. ‘Subtle, Lorna.’
‘I can be kind of what?’ Tess asked. ‘Honest? Harsh? A mega-bitch?’
When Lorna shrugged vacantly, Tess turned to me. ‘Well, seeing as I appear to have a rep, I may as well live up to it. All those little fantasies you’re currently having? The ones where you’re trying to convince yourself that this isn’t real and any second now, Mommy dearest will come into your bedroom and wake you up? Forget them. They’re all lies.’
She carried on talking before I could tell her I’d already worked out I was in a coma.
‘These two’ – she paused to gesture toward Lorna and Nancy – ‘they’re all, “Let’s make it easy for newbies, let them come to terms with it in their own time.” Well, that tactic didn’t help me. In fact, nothing helped me.So here’s the truth: you’re dead. End of story. The only thing you can do is deal with it and hope you’re lucky enough to move on.’
Tess gave me a look that practically screamed capisce? and walked out of the room, leaving Lorna and Nancy gaping after her. Outside a cab horn honked.
‘Got to say it,’ Lorna said eventually. ‘That girl has a way with words. You’re totally dead, Charlotte.’ And that’s when I tried to throw up. Except I couldn’t throw up anymore. I couldn’t do much of anything anymore.
I, Charlotte Louise Feldman, of Twenty-One West Seventy-First Street, was, apparently, no more. My head was swimming. I wasn’t sure if it was the having-just-died part or the it’s-impossible-to-take-inall- this-information bit of the situation that was freaking me out the most; but on reflection, I guess it was probably the part where I was dead. That morning all I had to worry about was where to meet David for lunch, whether I’d get tickets for the portrait exhibit at the Met, and what Dad was going to say when he heard I’d flunked chemistry. Again. Now? Now I had to deal with the fact that (a) I was dead, (b) OMG, I was dead, and (c)
someone really didn’t like me. As in, didn’t like me so much that they had decided to murder me.
What about my poor parents, did they even know yet? And David? Did this mean we’d broken up? Tears welled at the corners of my eyes. I tried my hardest not to think about the ‘Living,’ as Nancy had called them. Come on, Charlotte, I told myself, biting down on my lip and waiting for it to hurt. But it didn’t. Hold it together. There must be a way to fix this.
‘I better show you the Door,’ Nancy said, all businesslike again, desperately trying to distract me. ‘I know it’s
a lot to take in, but we have to get moving. Every second we waste could mean we miss out on a vital clue to what happened to you and we can’t have that, or we’ll never find your Key.’
‘My what?’ I asked, pressing my finger to my lip. No blood.
‘Your Key,’ Lorna said. ‘Don’t worry, it’s taken me four years to understand all this stuff. It’s more complicated than applying a streak-free fake tan!’
I followed Lorna and Nancy out of the room. My new room. For that moment, at least. One thing was for sure: dead or not, I wasn’t ready to leave my life behind just yet.
Suzy Cox is deputy editor of Cosmopolitan UK. She lives in London, but she loves New York.
The Dead Girls Detective Agency was published on the 18th of July by Much-In-Little