The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1)
by Jonathan Stroud
Publication Date: August 26th, 2014 (first published August 29th, 2013)
Format Read: Kindle E-Book (and Library Book)
When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .
For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.
Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.
Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again . . .
Jonathan Stroud was always a favorite author of my siblings and I growing up–I can’t count how many times we read and reread the Bartimaeus Trilogy. Then, recently hearing that Stroud was embarking on yet another series, I hastened to read it and report back to you, my dear readers.
The Screaming Staircase is the first of a series dealing with teenage ghost hunters. The basic premise is that fifty years ago, although there was the occasional haunting here and there, the world just sort of exploded with ghosts. Anyone who died under mildly suspicious circumstances in the past millennia was now roaming the areas they were attached to. The good people of England soon learned that children were much more sensitive to supernatural creatures than any adult, and the most talented of children were soon trained to work as professional ghost hunters, under the supervision of a once-talented adult. Lucy Carlyle, having left her old troupe after a particularly unfortunate accident, arrives in London determined to show everyone that she’s as good as one of the old, famous ghost-hunters, the ones who started the big London agencies. Unfortunately, she ends up at Lockwood & Co, a small ghost-hunting firm headed by fourteen-year-old Anthony Lockwood, his assistant George…and, now, Lucy.
Fans of other Jonathan Stroud works will definitely like The Screaming Staircase. While not featuring QUITE as much sass and sarcasm as the Bartimaeus Trilogy, it’s an amusing story nevertheless. It intersperses the idea of children as professional, talented ghost-hunters with the idea of children living and working without any adult supervision. Lucy is a steady narrator which everyone will like–she’s a direct storyteller, without any flourishes except for mentions of her supernatural talents. She’s also a very professional thirteen-year-old (I think she’s thirteen), almost adult-like in her concerns and practicality. She described herself without any hint of attractiveness, just facts, and moved straight on to the ghost story.
Actually, I liked all of the characters. Lucy is the one we’re most in touch with, seeing as she’s the narrator, but through her we also get good glimpses of the others. Lockwood is an eccentric, a tall thin boy who’s always bouncing around and making somewhat rash decisions. George is a grumpy, rotund boy with questionable hygiene and a passion for research. Thankfully, there’s not even a hint of romance–it would be strange, considering how old they are. Besides, the three are a clear team, moving around each other so well it’s basically instinct. Friendship here is more valued.
The atmosphere is also good. Although the book is clearly written at some point in the last fifty years, it’s difficult to tell when–there are mentions of leggings, rapiers, televisions but no cell phones. Even knowing the time period, it feels like it could be Victoriana, in a time where gas lamps rather than electric were used. There is a sort of timelessness about the book–not in the sense of it traveling through time, rather that without small markers like flashlights, it could be anytime in 200 years. But it seems to fit best in the sort of creepy, penny-dreadful, Jack-the-Ripper-esque London.
This book is not particularly light-hearted. It’s as light as can be when you’re talking about middle-schoolers confronting terrible danger. Because they are doing a dangerous job–besides Lucy’s somewhat worrisome connections with ghosts, there are all of the haunted areas they find themselves in over the course of the book. In addition, the ghosts themselves are formed by rather horrible deaths, which the gang also investigates as a matter of course. Stroud does a good job of keeping the tone even and not making anything too hideous for his readers, but it is somewhat grim.
Still, a very nice book, one I would recommend to younger readers–or, for that matter, older ones.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.