Book Title & Alexandra's Review

Death and Douglas by J.W. Ocker

Middle School

Douglas has grown up around the business of death. Generations of his family have run the Mortimer Family Funeral Home. The mortician and gravediggers are all his buddies. And the display room of caskets is an awesome place for hide and seek. It’s business as usual in Douglas’s small New England town. Until one day, an incredibly out-of-the-ordinary murder victim is brought to the funeral home. And more startling: others follow. On the cusp of Halloween, a serial killer has arrived. And unsatisfied with the small-town investigation, Douglas enlists his friends to help him solve the mystery.


I found this book at Barnes and Nobles years ago. I wanted to read it out of curiosity for the unusual setting. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a physical or ebook copy at the library or on Overdrive. After almost four years, I gave up on ever reading it. Until it finally showed up on Overdrive as an ebook.


The story gives the reader an age-appropriate inside look at what goes on in a funeral home, from the showroom full of coffins and urns, to the chapel, to the morgue in the basement. I have read another book about a kid living in a funeral home, but that story didn’t go into any details about the funeral process. One series I read explained the inner workings of an autopsy in excruciating detail. Compared to that series, this book is pretty tame.


The story starts off a bit slow with two gravediggers named Moss and Feaster. As they talk about how fortunate they are that they’ve made a career out of digging holes, a thought came to mind, “Are these two the digger kids from the Disney Channel show Recess?”


Growing up in a funeral home, death is a regular event for Douglas. He knows and accepts that it’s natural and inevitable. That all changes when the murders start, making him question his beliefs about death.


What makes this story stand out from other “kids solving a crime” stories is the deep discussions on death. Death is a fact of life. You live, and then you die from old age, illness, or a horrible accident. No matter how hard you try, death will get you eventually. Like the song from Beetlejuice the Musical says, “That’s the thing with life, no one makes it out alive.” But murder is different. Death by someone else’s hands. A death that shouldn’t have happened.


In my opinion, the real star of this book is Douglas’s best friend, Lowell. Quoting from the story, he has “eyes full of mischief and mouth full of merriment.” He was the comic relief in this dark story.


I don’t like what happens to the body after we die. We’re either put in a well-crafted coffin and buried six feet underground or cremated, put in an urn, and left on a mantel. One day while browsing Facebook, I found a better solution, The Living Urn. According to the website, “The patented Living Urn® is America’s first and leading bio urn & planting system designed to grow a beautiful, enduring memory tree, plant, or flowers with cremated remains!” Doesn’t that sound so much nicer than putting your loved ones’ ashes on your mantel place. If you’re interested in this process, check out The Living Urn’s website through the link below.


If this story’s morbid themes about death and serial killers pique your interest, I recommend Acceleration by Graham McNamee for future reading. If you want to learn about what our ancient ancestors used to do with their dead loved ones and how cemeteries became what they are today, check out YouTube Ted-Ed video link below.

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