The Dead Boy Detectives by Jill Thompson (2005)
First introduced in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Season of Mists, Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine are young ghosts (ages 13 and 12, respectively) who form Rowland and Paine Detective Agency (home office: The Tree house, London, England). Artist and writer Jill Thompson used the two, plus Gaiman's character Death, in an earlier book Death: At Death's Door. Now they are back (with a cameo appearance by Death) in this manga digest.
Annika Abernathy, a 13-year-old student at the International Academy in Chicago, has written to the agency asking for their help in locating her missing roommate and best friend, Elizabeth. All the adults at the school are acting as if Elizabeth never existed -- something she feels is "ultra dodgy" and she fears the worst. Well, what young detective agency could resist that appeal?
The dead lads make it to Chicago and manage to find Annika and her friends Fiorenza, Michiko, and 6-year-old Frederika. Charles (who died in 1990) is gobsmacked when he sees Annika (she's quite a 13-year-old dish); Edwin (who died in 1916) is a bit more blase and eager to solve the mystery. The girls tell them they could stay at their boarding school while they investigate, forgetting to mention that it's an all-girls school. The girls solve this problem by raiding their closets and using their make-up and Charles and Edwin are transformed into a pair of exceptionally uncomfortable girls -- making them the only YA drag dead detectives (to my knowledge) in literature.
On to the investigation!
There are suspects a-plenty including les itches bay (three older bully-girls), young teacher Mr. Bourne (very snoggable, according to the girls), Ms. Caine (a world lit teacher who picked on Elizabeth), science teacher Mr. Drake (who loved to experiment), history teacher Professor Pimm (who was overly interested in Elizabeth's mysterious term paper), and the surly and prying janitor Mr. Jones. There were also clues a-plenty: hidden treasure, a torn diary, a briefcase full of photos of Elizabeth, a pile of receipts for Elizabeth's favorite food, and hidden panels all over the boarding school.
The investigation is complicated by no one knowing the boys are dead, and most not knowing the boys are boys -- causing some complications in a girls school. And the girls who do know that the boys are not girls are displaying a great deal of pubescent lust, making both dead boys very uncomfortable -- especially Edwin with his Edwardian/Georgian sensibilities.
I'm not that much of a manga fan, but I was entranced by The Dead Boy Detectives. The writing is smart and sassy, the artwork lends itself to the story, and the resolution is unexpected and quite satisfying.
Enjoyable and worth checking out.