I'm going to admit it. I wasn't the biggest fan of the Bartimaeus books. I didn't actually finish the series. I hated it because I wanted to love them. So it was with a little trepidation that I requested a galley of the first book in Jonathan Stroud's newest series entitled Lockwood & Co. This time, I'm pleased to say, I wasn't at all disappointed and loved everything about The Screaming Staircase.
A sinister Problem has
occurred in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters
are appearing throughout the city, and they aren't exactly friendly.
Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see--and
eradicate--these supernatural foes. Many different Psychic Detection
Agencies have cropped up to handle the dangerous work, and they are in
fierce competition for business.
In "The Screaming Staircase," the
plucky and talented Lucy Carlyle teams up with Anthony Lockwood, the
charismatic leader of Lockwood & Co, a small agency that runs
independent of any adult supervision. After an assignment leads to both a
grisly discovery and a disastrous end, Lucy, Anthony, and their
sarcastic colleague, George, are forced to take part in the perilous
investigation of Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in
England. Will Lockwood & Co. survive the Hall's legendary Screaming
Staircase and Red Room to see another day?
The book is told from the perspective of Lucy, a brave bold girl whose particular talent lies in hearing and feeling ghosts. After a tragic incident at her former job she sets off to find a new one. Lucy is a wonderful vehicle for the story as she is the newest employee of Lockwood & Co. and she has a greater sense of what the supernatural forces they face are feeling because of her talent. She is often impatient and doesn't always think her actions through all the way. Lockwood is the brilliant young leader of the band. His wit and charm tend to pull people toward him, Lucy included. She joins his agency despite the lack of adult supervisors and buys into his belief that they can and will be the best there is. This doesn't mean she can't see his faults though. Lockwood is brilliant, snarky, a great strategist, and a massive risk taker. There is something a bit Sherlockian about him. I loved him beyond all measure. There is also a mystery surrounding him involving a locked room in his house and the truth behind his dead parents. Other characters hint at things that just make you want to know as much as possible. Seeing him through Lucy's eyes makes him even more enigmatic, causing the reader to be drawn in by the force of his personality as much as Lucy and George are. George is the third member of the team. He is the cautious one. He lives for research and organizing things. The three of them together have all the essential components of a brilliant team if they could just work together properly. The story of this book is about them doing just that as much as it is about the mystery and the ghosts.
I love a good mystery and if you add in some creepy but not too terrifying supernatural elements I'm even more on board. Stroud builds his story piece by piece. The famed Screaming Staircase of the title is not even mentioned until well into the book. The story opens while Lucy and Lockwood are on another job. The reader learns all of the elements of the work involved in dealing with "the Problem". Since children are the ones best as sensing the spirits, the most dangerous work falls to them in this world. The job Lucy and Lockwood are working goes horribly wrong on several levels. There is then a flashback to how they came to work together and then a return to the fallout of the messed up job. All of this ties together brilliantly. There is so much action that despite the length of these sections the story doesn't drag or feel too heavy. A lot of this is due to the characterization. I will gladly read about Lucy, Lockwood, and George doing pretty much anything together now. I adore all three of them. A story that shows them working through their team work difficulties, fighting for their lives, solving a mystery decades old, and facing a night in the most sinister haunted house in existence is mesmerizing. I could not put this book down and read it one afternoon. I immediately wanted more. I hope we will be getting book two sooner rather than later.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Disney Hyperion, via NetGalley. The Screaming Staircase is available for purchase now.