Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist
With a touch, Lexi can sense how and when someone will die. Some say it’s a gift. But to Lexi it’s a curse—one that keeps her friendless and alone. All that changes when Lexi foresees the violent death of a young woman, Jane, outside a club. But Jane doesn’t go to the afterlife quietly. Her ghost remains behind, determined to hunt down her murderer, and she needs Lexi’s help. In life, Jane was everything Lexi is not—outgoing, happy, popular. But in death, all Jane wants is revenge. Lexi will do anything to help Jane, to make up for the fact that she didn’t—couldn’t—save Jane’s life, and to keep this beautiful ghost of a girl by her side for as long as possible.
Listen, this book is everything you could want from a gritty queer urban fantasy.
Murder! Ghosts! Murdered gay ghosts who don’t fall into the “bury your gays” trope because, you know … they’re not buried! Missing, Presumed Dead isn’t my usual cup of tea, but Emma Berquist’s debut, Devils Unto Dust, was so innovative that I had to check this one out and I’m so glad I did.
Even though the main character, Lexi, isn’t exactly likable, I loved her. It is, after all, understandable why she’s jaded and prickly: because she can see how people die with a touch, Lexi carries a lot of fear and trauma with her that masquerades as anger. She reminded me a lot of Kaz Brekker, actually, which I liked. Girls often aren’t allowed to be antagonistic–too often it’s construed as an undesirable trait, something to be fixed. Even though Lexi’s character arc has her softening a bit and slowly letting people in, she’s still secretive and grumpy and that’s okay.
Lexi is eighteen, but she reads so much older; had I not known this was YA, I would definitely have assumed she’s in her early thirties. Her character, her narrative voice, and her history sounds like it could have come out of an adult book. I feel as if this has the potential to be alienating to teens who read this book, and it was difficult for me to suspend my disbelief enough to remember that Lexi is still a teenager.
One thing I wasn’t expecting to get out of this book was a murder mystery and ghost story wrapped into one. The mechanics of the ghosts in Missing, Presumed Dead are really quite unique; of all the living people in the novel, only Lexi can interact with them, but to her, they’re as real as a living person would be. This works out very well when it comes to Jane, one of the few people she can touch without foreseeing death. Jane and Lexi had a great dynamic, full of tension and bickering and slow burn, which is exactly what I wanted from my romance, and their romance arc was so well-written.
The whole book has a very film noir tone to it as Lexi and Jane work together to solve the mystery of Jane’s murder. I don’t think the murder mystery was executed as well as it could have been. When I’m reading mystery, I don’t want the culprit to come out of left field, and this book definitely gave me that feeling. I was invested in what was going on and loved all the investigation that Lexi and Jane did, but I felt like there was very little actual foreshadowing–what gives you the satisfaction of guessing whodunit. Or maybe that’s the brain fog talking and it was there all along.
The magic system and setting is fairly typical of urban fantasy, but combined with the film noir tone it felt so much more vivid than most of the urban fantasy I’ve read. There’s also a fun cast of side characters; the one who really stood out to me was Trevor, Lexi’s ghost roommate and mentor to Jane. The world just feels so busy and active, and for the most part, Lexi chooses to shut herself out of it.
Missing, Presumed Dead is a really great reinvention of the urban fantasy/paranormal genre with a lovely queer romance and atmospheric setting. If you want a bit of a twist on the conventions of the genre, definitely check it out.
Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy!
content warnings | themes of violent deaths including murder & suicide, mental illness, addiction
tell me about your favourite urban fantasies and/or ghost stories!