The Screaming Staircase
#1 Lockwood & co.
by Jonathan Stroud
Rating: 4 & 1/2 Stars
‘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 . . . ‘
I haven’t read any Stroud for years, but I’ve always loved his Bartimaeus trilogy. So I was a little behind the times on reading this new series. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a couple of reviews doing the rounds so I went library hunting and happily got my mitts on a copy. I was fairly sure I wasn’t going to love it as much as the Bartimaeus books as they’re up there with my favourite YA and I don’t quite, but I was still very pleasantly surprised!
There’s always that problem in YA of why the children/teenagers are the ones facing down evil rather than the adults. There are a lot of established ways of getting around this – dead parents being the main – but I liked Stroud’s way of dealing with it here. Lockwood & Co. and indeed all the ghost hunting agencies, are staffed by children through necessity as children are the only ones who can see ghosts. This crisis has been going on for decades and the society Stroud has created has formed around the problem. It’s quite normal for children to join the agencies – indeed Lucy was the breadwinner in her house for some years. It was a clever way of dealing with an issue that always bugs me.
The trio at the centre of the agency are a pleasure to read and the way they bounce off each other is a lot of fun. I liked that the boys annoyed Lucy just as much as she had any affection for them. It seemed to fit with her age and made for an interesting dynamic. There was a real sense throughout the book of them starting to come together as a team – it was a pleasure to read!
I was intrigued by the worldbuilding and I liked the little nods to possible future plot points – the skull in the jar and what happened to Lockwood’s parents for instance. This has the feel of a longer series of fun quick reads with darker undercurrents and I’m now firmly a follower of Lockwood & Co.’s antics. The Screaming Staircase of the title made for a great central plot. I liked how Stroud led us up the garden path a little, before jumping in another direction and finally tying all the strands together at the end.
I suppose the only quibble I had was the jump back in time after the first section. I didn’t understand the reasoning for it. I’d rather we had gone on from that point with Lucy’s past explained as we went, rather than jumping back so completely to give us her life story.