‘The Screaming Staircase’ heralds the start of a new series of novels called ‘Lockwood & Co.’ by the acclaimed author of the ‘Bartimaeus’ sequence Jonathan Stroud. The plot is situated in an indistinct time. Tthere are tv sets and Velcro around, but the overall feeling of the period is still quite Victorian England. London, to be exact.
For more than fifty years, the country has been plagued by the Problem, a terrifying epidemic of ghosts. The danger is far greater than just being scared to death, even the slightest touch of some ghosts can be enough to kill a living being. So a number of specialist psychic investigation agencies have emerged to destroy or contain the dangerous apparitions. Because extreme psychic sensibility is almost exclusively found in young children, the agencies employ them to battle the threat of the so-called visitors. The usual arrangement is an adult handler and some child agents who can hear, see or smell ghosts.
We meet Anthony Lockwood and Lucy Carlyle, members of the independent psychic investigation agency Lockwood & Co., on an assignment that goes totally awry. They manage to contain the visiting ghost but their client`s house goes up in flames, with Lucy and Lockwood barely able to escape the fiery inferno. Lucy as narrator provides details of the Problem and her own history before she was hired by Lockwood. You see, Lockwood & Co. is not your usual agency as it is comprised of three agents without any adult handlers.
Their misadventure nearly ruins Lockwood and Co., as they lose all their clients and can’t find new ones because their reputation precedes them. In this hour of need, a rich client promises a chance to clear their reputation and earn a lot of money with just one job. All the agents have to do is to survive one night in the most haunted house in all of England and try to banish all visiting ghosts within. Is this really the chance of a lifetime or just a trap?
With ‘The Screaming Staircase’, Jonathan Stroud has crafted a well-written young adult steampunk mystery ghost novel which is a real delight to read. It is smart, funny, witty and genuinely frightening in all the right places. Stroud’s writing immerses you in the story so that you are right there with the characters when they explore the haunted places. The three protagonists are believable, easy to differentiate and work well as a group. I am looking forward to read about their next adventure, ‘The Whispering Skull’. A definite must for fans of ‘Ghostbusters’ or Jonathan Stroud’s previous novels.
(pub: Corgi/Random House. 453 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-552-56678-0)
check out website: www.randomhousechildrens.co.uk