Johnny Maxwell is just a normal twelve-year old kid, or at least he tries to be. Things just seem to happen to him that don't happen to anyone else - aliens inside a computer game surrender to him and name him their Chosen One, for example (as told in the first book of this series). Compared to that adventure, seeing dead people almost seems rather prosaic. The Trying Times Johnny has been living in have advanced past his parents' shouting and Being Sensible About Things to Phase 3, which sees him now living with his grandfather. He often takes a short cut to school through a local cemetery, and it is there that he meets the Alderman, the long dead and buried Alderman. His friends Yo-less, Bigmac, and Wobbler can't see dead people the way Johnny suddenly can, but events soon convince them that Johnny isn't just fooling around with them. Johnny meets all of the dead people in the cemetery, all of whom are quite put out when they learn that their cemetery, a place which the rules of being dead say they cannot leave, has been sold by the city (for only five pence) to a corporation planning on building office buildings there. Since Johnny is the only human who can see them (and why Johnny can see them is rather a mystery, although the Alderman thinks it is because he is too lazy not to see them), the dead look to him to save their eternal resting place. Stopping a big corporation from doing something the city has granted them the legal right to do is no easy task, especially for a twelve-year-old boy and his friends, but Johnny is wonderfully resourceful.
The ending of this book didn't have much spark to it, but overall Johnny and the Dead is an even better read than the first Johnny Maxwell novel Only You Can Save Mankind. It also rings quite distinctly at times of the type of humor showcased by the author in his Discworld novels. There is one bit early on that is just hilarious. Wobbler puts the idea in Johnny's head that dead people basically lurch around like the zombie types in Michael Jackson's Thriller video, and this indirectly leads to the Alderman trying to moonwalk in the cemetery. The dead people as a whole put a lot of life into this book, oddly enough. Among the fascinating, entertaining dead folks we meet are an ardent suffragette, an inventor who is quite proficient at manipulating electronic equipment, a brilliant man named Einstein - Solomon Einstein the taxidermist, and a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist who is quite disappointed at the way things have gone in the world since his death. The vibrant personalities of the dead men and women more often than not clash in a number of very funny ways as they all try to cope with modern life or the lack of it.
This book does stand up fairly well on its own, but the characterization of Johnny and his friends is not detailed enough for you to really get to know them without having read Only You Can Save Mankind already. This is considered juvenile fiction, but as with everything Terry Pratchett writes, men and women of all ages, providing they have at least a nascent sense of humor, will find much to enjoy and laugh about in these pages.