Cover of Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist. The hazy outline of a person

About the Book

Title: Missing, Presumed Dead
Published: 2019

Cover Story: Lame
Drinking Buddy: Hell Yes
MPAA Rating: R: Graphic violence, sexuality, strong language, alcohol and tobacco use
Talky Talk: Somewhat Derivative
Bonus Factors: Ghosts, Mystery
Bromance Status: From Beyond

Cover Story: Lame

Not only is the cover the standard horror novel creepy figure (who’s apparently playing ‘head, shoulders, knees, and toes’), the blurb is misleading. Jane obviously wants justice, but they’ve made her out like some avenging demon, rather than a frightened and headstrong young woman looking for answers.

The Deal:

Lexi has a gift, something she inherited from her grandfather. Every time she makes physical contact with someone, she gets an intense vision of their death. She knows exactly how and when they’re going to die. This makes it very difficult for her to form close relationships, even with her off again/on again guy, Phillip. And since not everyone dies in their sleep at 90, a handshake can show her some pretty horrific scenes. On top of that, the unquiet dead talk to Lexi. People who don’t want to move on, for one reason or another: unfinished business, revenge, or the ability to hang around unnoticed. Lexi can see them, talk to them, even touch them. Her psychiatrist died at his desk long before she met him. Her roommate, Trevor, is a teenager who died in a car wreck decades ago.

Obviously, this doesn’t do much for Lexi’s mental well being. When she’s not tending bar at the Elysium club (staffed entirely by people with supernatural gifts), she hides in her apartment, hangs out with her grandfather, or has herself committed to the local psychiatric ward. There’s only so much she can take. One night she accidentally touches a cute girl at the club and sees a vision of her with a slashed throat. Very soon. And it comes to pass. But the girl, Jane, returns to Lexi. Why is she still here? Who killed her? Does it have something to do with a spate of other recent murders?

Lexi wants to do what she can for Jane, especially since her murder happened on her home turf. But as they investigate the crime, they start to form a bond. Lexi’s new companion is dead…but that’s not going to stand in the way of a great friendship.

Drinking Buddy: Hell Yes

Two pints of beer cheersing

Lexi is a young woman barely keeping it together, trying to help the dead, trying to help her friends, trying to support her grandfather, and teetering on the brink of a complete breakdown. Jane just found out she was horribly murdered and that Lexi is the only person she can communicate with. She wants to find the killer. Maybe not so much out of revenge, but for closure for herself and her mother (her body is still missing). At first, Lexi resents the intrusion of this dead girl into her life and solitude, while Jane is desperate for Lexi to help catch the killer before the trail grows cold or he kills again. But as time goes on and Jane begins to accept her fate…as Lexi starts to appreciate this talented, vivacious, aspiring artist, they realize they might have been friends in life. Actually, they might still be great friends.

MPAA Rating: R (Graphic violence, sexuality, strong language, alcohol and tobacco use)

So someone is killing off a lot of young people. Different backgrounds, different genders, different sexualities. Jane was only the latest victim. Can Lexi and her psychic friends track down the killer before they strike again?

Meanwhile, Jane is adjusting to her new life…er, afterlife. The dead can touch, and Trevor, Lexi’s ghostly roommate, likes having a new dance partner (but nothing more, he’s gay). Lexi feels guilty for not being able to prevent Jane’s death, and does her best to help her cope. Since she was an artist in life and can no longer hold a brush or pen, Lexi holds the instruments and lets Jane move her hands. Just lets her touch her hands for hours, as she creates works of art. Together. Across the void.

Lexi always had trouble relating to Philip, as every time he’d kiss her, she’d see him die. But she doesn’t have that problem with Jane. Of course, Jane’s dead, so that’s kind of a crimp in things. And once they catch the murderer, she’ll probably either want to take advantage of being an invisible non-person or go ahead and pass through to the other side.

Still…it’s nice to have a friend.

Talky Talk: Somewhat Derivative

Okay, you know we’ve seen some of these elements before. Someone who can see dead people? She even has a dead psychiatrist. And when Lexi and Jane were drawing, I pictured them at a potter’s wheel with ‘Unchained Melody’ playing in the background.

But a lot of this story was highly original. We’ve seen lots of Twilight Zone knock-offs about people who sense imminent death. But someone who sees everyone’s death, whether she wants to or not? That’s a neat twist. And the idea of romance with the dead. Okay, my father was in the Air Force with a guy who was dishonorably discharged for doing that, but this is different. I mean, could something like that work? Lexi would have to resign herself to having a girlfriend she could never introduce to anyone and would have to do everything for. On the other hand, Lexi is kind of a homebody, and she doesn’t have horrible visions when she touches Jane. Plus, Jane is not bound to Lexi or even the city of her death. I think these two could set up an awesome detective agency.

Bonus Factor: Ghosts

Little ghost sugar cookies

So in this universe, most ghosts are murder victims, trying to deal with a life that is cut short, or to get revenge on their killers. Others, like Trevor or Lexi’s doctor, just kind of don’t want to move on. A ghost can choose to pass on to the other side, but no one knows what’s there or what it’s like. It’s a one way trip. Also, ghosts have free reign to travel and pass through walls. They can visit any building at any time. And don’t tell me you wouldn’t at least think about teabagging Donald Trump.

Bonus Factor: Mystery

Cast of the movie Clue gathered in doorway

So who killed Jane and why? Why doesn’t he show up clearly on the security tapes? How did he convince Jane to make an excuse to her friends and then sneak out into a dark alley? Why is this person killing others? Why does he mutilate their bodies?

Bromance Status: From Beyond

This book didn’t make a powerful impression on my life, but I think I’ll feel its influence for a long time…especially when I’m alone at night.

Literary Matchmaking

The Haunted (The Haunted #1)

In Danielle Vega’s unoriginally-titled The Haunted, a girl must solve a murder mystery with the help of some not so friendly ghosts.

Open Mic Night at Westminster Cemetery

Open Mic Night at Westminster Cemetery by Mary Amato deals with a society of ghosts.

Long Way Down

A boy must confront the spirits of shooting victims in Jason Reynolds’s It’s a Long Way Down.

FTC full disclosure: I received neither money art supplies for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.