DEATH WATCH, Ari Berk, 523pages, $17.99 Hardback
Silas Umber has always been told that his father is an Undertaker. Well, that’s what the people of Lichport call him. And Silas comes by the misunderstanding of his father’s profession honestly: Amos Umber has always lied to his son about it. Not because he wants to, but because Silas’ mom doesn’t approve of the Umber family’s business. She doesn’t approve of much else either.
But after giving his son a rare Roman coin that has always hung around his own neck, Silas’ beloved father Amos goes out on a job and never returns. The one human being in his young life that understands him is lost. Within a year’s time the lives of he and his mother descend into poverty.
They must return to Lichport to live with Uncle Charles in his museum like house. His mother takes to her new richly appointed life instantly, but not Silas. He senses that his Uncle guards a terrible secret. There are noises and a strange energy in that house. The source seems to be a room with its door dead bolted multiple times to keep people out; or to keep something in. The housekeeper Mrs. Grey warns Silas he should get out of the house as often as he can.
When he discovers his father’s double life, including the house where he lived away from him and his mother, Silas comes into possession of his fathers very odd pocket watch: It’s shaped like a skull and has the power to reveal the spirits unseen by everyone else. He also comes to understand the very strange business his father’s family has been in for centuries and the meaning of the coin he wears around his neck.
There’s death and ghosts to be managed in Lichport. Does Silas’ return mean that he will follow in his father’s footsteps? The town’s leaders are praying that he does. But he has to escape the terrible trap his Uncle has laid for him first.
A green slime grows on the surface of the Mill pond depicted in Death Watch: Along with the grays and blacks that make up this books shadows, it could be said that the rotted green of that pond colors the world of Silas Umber for the first fifty pages. For many readers of Young Adult Fiction, this book may seem like a maddening dog paddle to nowhere at first. Many will be tempted to put it down and not take it up again.
But the reader is rescued from drowning when Silas at last meets the people of Lichport, a world that still holds to its Elizabethan ways, cut off as they are from the rest of the world. Their poor homes are still lit by candles and the nights are cheered with gatherings around fires in stoney hearths.
The locals loved his father and embrace Silas with open arms and seats at their fires. These characters are rich in personality and bold of heart. And they propel Silas forward into the life for which he was born. It’s when Silas begins to embrace the strange but true purpose of his life that the reader is taken on one of the most imaginative tales bound between two covers.
Ghosts both troubled and content, benevolent Zombies who guide Silas toward the truth about his father, and a cast of powerful characters drive this book forward. Ari Berk has crafted a unique world that many will wish actually existed.
Be patient with the first fifty pages, and we guarantee you’ll be very upset that the sequel is not out yet. Excellent and compelling. We give this book 4.5 stars out of 5.