Title: The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1)
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Genre: YA/Urban fantasy/Supernatural
Date Read: 07/08/2014 – 08/08/2014
It’s been a long time since I read a 400+ page book in a day. Well, nearly just one day, but it was only the last 40 pages on the second. Boyfriend needed to be up early for work the following day, and a) every room except the bedroom was cold so I didn’t want to move and b) the book was creepy enough for me to prefer to remain in his company and not read, then keep reading alone.
Anyway. Last year I read Jonathon Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy and adored it. This book also came out last year, and I’ve been aware of it, but trying to clear out my bookshelves rather than get things from the library, so it’s taken me this long to get to it. Given how quickly I read it though, I probably needn’t have waited so long.
Like the Bartimaeus trilogy, Lockwood is set in an alternate version of London, though in this one, Londoner (and all of England, I think) are inhibited by the Problem, that is, an infestation of ghosts. The Problem has existed for fifty or sixty years now, but no one knows what caused it. All they know is that young children have a heightened sensitivity to psychic activity and therefore need to be on the front line of defence. We follow Lucy Carlyle, who has recently joined the Agency Lockwood & Co. in London after a disaster in her hometown left her alive but the rest of her team of child operatives dead. When Lucy steals an artefact during a case, it leads to them identifying a murder victim, and beginning an investigation into her death fifty years prior. Not only that, but they receive an offer they can’t refuse from one of England’s most powerful business men, which requires them to spend the night in one of the most haunted houses in England…
While the titular Screaming Staircase job doesn’t actually come into play until about 250 pages in, the novel is fast-paced from the beginning. The first chapter throws the reader into the action as Lockwood and Lucy investigate a vengeful spirit and accidentally burn down a house. After that, we learn a bit more about The Problem, about Lucy’s past, and the Lockwood company (the third and last member of which is George Crubbins, who is kind of gross and really annoying, but he is an important member of the team). From there, they deal with a ghost somehow getting into their home, an armed robbery, a debt of £60000 with only a month to pay, and finally the most dangerous case of their lives.
The quote from Rick Riordan on the front cover says, “You’ll want to sleep with the lights on!” and there were definitely moments where this was the case for me. Stroud’s world-building is great (there’s even a glossary at the back of all the different types of ghosts); he knows how to really build up the tension, and he creates characters that you really want to see escape alive, though sometimes you’re not sure if that’s going to happen.
The characters are all individual: Lucy with her troubled past, Lockwood has boundless energy but is also secretive and mysterious (he won’t talk about his parents and the house they live in belongs to him, but don’t ask about that third door on the landing; he won’t tell you what’s behind it), and George as… well. That kind of annoying one that you wish didn’t have to be there, but you know you’d be useless without him (where Lockwood loves to dive into a case without asking any questions, George can be found down at the National Archives doing as much research as he can before he sets foot in a haunted area). There are definitely hints of a romance between Lockwood and Lucy, but I’m hoping that won’t get too overpowering in subsequent books.
Basically, I loved this book. The only reason I didn’t give it five stars is because it is aimed at a younger readership and some of the actual writing itself did feel a bit young for me, and a few other little niggling things like Lucy not seeming hugely affected by the deaths of her teammates. The story itself definitely made up for that, though, and you will be able to read a review of the second book in the series, the Whispering Skull, in two Fridays’ time. At time of writing, it hasn’t come out yet, but I imagine it will be another read-in-one-night book. 😀
P.S. In case you don’t want to take my word for it, here is the book trailer. I haven’t actually been able to bring myself to watch it because it’s bloody creepy!