Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help by Douglas Anthony Cooper

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Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help by Douglas Anthony Cooper

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A comic look at life in school when you're surrounded by friendly, if disturbing-looking, ghosts. The plot drifts, unfortunately, as does the sustaining of the humour.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Quercus
ISBN: 978-1847244284

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Meet Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help. Just your average bright school child, it seems – liked by some, loathed by many more; far too bright for his own good, however. However he has a secret talent, that of seeing dead people – and there are several around his school. The basement has hunky idiotic PE-loving phantoms, other floors of the school campus have other types of ghostie, leading to the more cerebral – and most seem to have suffered an unlikely death, blowing themselves up with home chemistry experiments, drinking liquid nitrogen before smashing into iced-up pieces on the floor, and so on.

All this means that Munce, as awkward as he might be, and as fond of time away from his fellow students as he is, has been spotted in deep conversation – with what can only appear to be thin air. Shock horrors, then, for this leads us, and him, to Professional Help – forever to be spoken of in capitalised terms.

Still, there is a strange, nameless girl with which he can endure Professional Help – he certainly is not going to get any reprieve from his parents, one of whom helpfully notes it sounds a better idea than Unprofessional Help. But is this something one can best, override, and still come out the other side of with your phantom friendships, sanity and pride intact?

I'm sure there are several other instances of young teenage boys who can see ghosts at school, I just can't think of any at the moment. None however dress their telling up with a hero so sarcastic, dry and sharply humorous as Munce. Eminently quotable, his character is a most firmly realised one, and a nice instance of strong writing to encounter. However I didn't think the meeting was sustained as I'd liked.

For me the book drifted from scene to scene with no great spark, and not enough oomph in the changes. There's a way in to meet the ghosts who will provide the spirit to much of the story (pun intended), a look at Milrose's school life, the encounter with the nameless girl, and their joint debut at Professional Help, with the odd leader, Massimo Natica. Then a bizarre element of school geography is utilised, and a most unusual situation develops where the ghosts have to over-ride their own problems, and gang up in favour of Munce and the girl. And while there's nothing wrong in any of that, it just felt a little awkward that we'd have one section, and enjoy it, and it would be dropped, forgotten as we'd plough on.

Part of the force of that ploughing is Munce himself, and it feels funny to type but the very strength of his characterisation may be to the detriment of the book. He's so sharp, so snide with the adult 'superiors' around him, that he reads just as wearisome as he might well be in real life. A little goes a long way, and even though a lot of the closing chapters of his adventure is reliant on the spectral assistants, with their own comic traits and handily individualistic quirks, he is too much to the fore in the book, and as such is squashing any sense of style, pace or other change into one uniform, snappy lump.

And yet at the same time I quite easily forgot there was such a spark to the comedy writing here. The oddball-to-too-odd ratio was teetering towards the latter, unfortunately, and again the writing style was thrusting itself and its jokes down my throat to overload, before I found myself switching off and just reading. Sure, several instances of creativity were there and all too vivid – the chemicals with small, furry creature-faces on, used for – well, find out yourself, but with the unfortunate monotony there was not enough of anything I could grip on and get as much enjoyment from as I expected.

I am sure there will be readers of this book able to scoff at my thoughts, and claim the book as purely sustained hilarity, with such a bright, spunky style and perfect approachability in plotting, character and humour. The lengthy title makes me think there will be more Munce stories in future, and I would not write any of those off for being just that, but for me this first Munce adventure was a bit of a disappointment. A lot of it certainly was my style of humour (whether my style of humour when I was twelve or not I have no idea), but I couldn't say this was right up my street – I needed a break in the traffic to get more out of it.

A guarded recommendation, then – to many this will be manna, to many, just mania. It certainly is worth a look at before dismissing. We at the Bookbag would like to thank Quercus for sending us a copy to review.

For another look at the supernatural we can recommend Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy.

Buy Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help by Douglas Anthony Cooper at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help by Douglas Anthony Cooper at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help by Douglas Anthony Cooper at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help by Douglas Anthony Cooper at Amazon.com.

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