The Screaming Staircase is the first book in the Lockwood & Co series. The story is through the eyes of Lucy Carlyle, the newest member of the Lockwood agency. The Lockwood agency employs three agents – Lucy, Lockwood and George – with psychic abilities who can hunt the Visitors, ghosts who haunt the city. The Lockwood agency lacks an adult supervisor, but since the adults can’t see the ghost, the agency doesn’t really need them, or so Lockwood thinks.
After botching their latest job spectacularly, the agents are desperate to raise funds to pay for the damages. A task not made easy by their failing reputation. Lockwood attempts to solve a 50 year old murder case in hopes of gaining some publicity. In the midst of this, a client offers a generous reward and help pay their reparations if they investigate the Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted place in London, where the infamous Red Room and the Screaming Staircase is located.
Jonathan Stroud is British author who mainly writes young adult and children fantasy. Some of his most famous work includes the Bartimaeus Trilogy, which I still intend to get to one day.
The world of Lockwood & Co is an interesting one. About fifty years ago, the Problem happened, and since then ghosts has become a huge problem in everyday England. Curfews are started, anyone left outside at night is at risk of death. Ghostlamps help stave off some Visitors, but is useless against the powerful ones. No one knows what to do until two young individuals started fighting against them. They split off to form individual agencies which would lead to more agencies being formed. It’s essentially like ghostbuster except the ghost has overrun the world. It reminds me of Shadows of Silence in the Forests of Hell where similarly, everyone returns home during evenings and sets up defenses against the terrors of the night.
The story is well paced and full of light humor, which contrasts well with the grim world it is set in. The characters are quite interesting, though I have some reservations about George. However, George and Lucy’s repartee makes it worth it. Lockwood is the most interesting of the trio. His past is still shrouded in mystery. He runs the Lockwood agency from the house he inherited from his parents which is full of ghostly artifacts. I hope that how he started the agency and what happened to his parents will be address in a future book.
I think the book has one of the bad habits that many young adult mystery books has. Namely, one of the non-point of view character is aware of the solution to the problem they face, but does not reveal it to his fellow friends and thus the reader is also kept in the dark. I hope this is the only book in the series where this happens, because I really hate this sort of storytelling. It just feels like the author is reaching for a cheap bait to hook you through. If a character knows the solution, just tell it already. Or better yet, have it happen some other way than how he thought it would be. Or you know, just have him suspect something and tell the group about it. At least this way, you don’t feel that he is smugly hiding some information just to build suspense.
And I think because of that, I saw the twist coming from a mile away. There are a few threads of foreshadowing that you could pick on, but without the character being so mysterious about everything, I would probably not have sense something was wrong. And the twist would have felt more surprising. I feel that the author sacrifice this to make the character feel smarter, but I felt that it just makes the character feel a little like a smartass.
In many ways, the book reminds me of Sherlock Holmes and Scooby Doo. Lockwood feels like a younger, less competent Sherlock. Though that might just be me but I think the Scooby Doo comparison is a still a good one. A group of ghost hunters camping out at an infamous haunted manor to drive away ghosts? And there is a twist at the end of it too? Only this time, the ghost part is actually real.
“George Cubbins, handsome as a freshly opened tub of margarine, as charismatic as a wet tea towel lying scrumpled on the floor”
Did I mention this book has humor dripping all over it? Some of the sentences are just superb.
Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co. I intend to say little, in part to protect the identity of the victims, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.
The first line grips me right into the story. I actually finish the whole thing in one day. Granted half of it was because I had to wait for something, but since I had already read through three fourths of it, I decided to finish the rest of it later that same day.
The Screaming Staircase is a well told story set in an interesting world with great characters and little doses of humor all around. If you’re a fan of supernatural fantasy and mystery, you’ll love this.