The Morgue and Me
is a young adult detective novel published by author John C. Ford in 2009. Borrowing the noir tropes of such traditional detective fiction as the novels of Raymond Chandler, Ford tells the story of how a teen boy’s last summer before college turns him into a sleuth hot on the trail of a murderer.
Our narrator and protagonist is 18-year-old Christopher Newell. As the novel opens, Chris is sitting in a psychologist’s office. The doctor accuses him of dissociation – the teen has apparently recently been in a stressful situation but doesn’t seem to be showing the right amount of emotion. In answer, Chris tells the psychologist (and us) the story of “the craziest but most wonderful summer of his life” – the novel we are about to read.
We flash back to the start of the summer. Chris has just graduated from high school in the small town of Petoskey, Michigan, where his academic successes and valedictorian status have earned him a Regents Scholarship to Northwestern Michigan University, where his parents work. But Chris would like to do something exciting before going off to college and realizes he needs a summer job. His first thought is the NWMU astronomy department, but this opportunity flies out the window when he is caught trespassing in the planetarium after hours. His mom offers him a spot in her biology lab, but Chris would rather not spend the whole summer next to his mother. Because his eventual “life’s goal is to become a spy, or at least a spyish
-type figure,” he instead takes a janitor job at the town morgue, hoping to at least learn a little forensics from Dr. Mobley, the pathologist.
Chris’s parents take off for a few weeks of summer vacation. Now, aside from what starts out as a boring and quiet after-hours position, Chris’s only responsibility for the summer is his little precocious brother Daniel, who doesn’t go anywhere without a chemistry textbook.
One day, Chris overhears Dr. Mobley whispering with the town sheriff that a recent death at a motel can be ruled a suicide. Curious to see a dead body, Chris takes a peek – and sees that the dead man has been shot five times in the torso. Wondering why the pathologist would cover up what is clearly a murder, Chris digs around in Dr. Mobley’s desk and learns that the deceased is Mitch Blaylock. He also finds $15,000 in cash in a drawer.
Unable to go to the police with his discoveries since the sheriff is clearly also in on the cover-up, Chris decides to investigate the murder himself. He confides in his best friend, Mike, and then tries to get a reporter at his local newspaper The Courier
to pick up the story. One would-be muckraker actually bites: the “loud, insanely hot, ambitious” Tina agrees to play sleuth with him.
Chris and Tina slowly figure out that Blaylock was a small-time hood. Their digging puts them in danger, as Chris finds out firsthand when he is kidnapped from a local bar where he and Mike were having drinks. Mike resolves the situation, rescuing Chris from the kidnapper’s house.
Chris and Tina refuse to be intimidated and continue their investigation. But what they don’t expect is to stumble onto a shady blackmail and conspiracy scheme hatched at the same motel where the murdered man was found and involving high-ranking members of their community. They find pictures of the town mayor and two other shady politicians making a deal in the motel. At the same time, Chris starts to get paranoid that someone is watching his every move.
But when taking Chris hostage didn’t work, the criminal moves on to his next target: Chris’s little brother Daniel. The kidnapper demands Chris hand over the incriminating pictures in exchange for his brother. Desperate, Chris goes to the woods to make the exchange, but as soon as the kidnapper appears, Tina and a trustworthy cop named Tim appear to back up Chris. They rescue Daniel, and fight with the kidnapper, who turns out to be Tina’s ex-boyfriend, Bob, until he reveals that they can find out everyone they need at a meeting that will take place at a park near Tina’s house.
The next night, Chris and Tina overhear the mayor making a deal with two high-powered lawyers and the sheriff to approve a crooked land deal in order to cover up the environmental disaster caused by a local company. Chris gets the whole meeting on video, but he and Tina realize that none of what they’ve just witnessed has anything to do with Blaylock’s murder.
Instead, it turns out that the mayor has agreed to this corruption in order to protect his daughter Dana, who is the actual murderer. Also, because Dana is also Mike’s girlfriend, Mike had been using the information Chris told him about the investigation to try to shield her. After these revelations, the novel abruptly ends.