lockwood & co: the screaming staircase

There are times when you need to sit with a book for a while after finishing it to process your feelings and reactions.  Maybe the reading experience was emotionally exhausting.  Maybe the subject matter was disturbing (or nightmare-inducing!).  Maybe… a lot of things.  After I finished Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase, I struggled to evaluate my reaction.  My roommate walked in and saw me sitting on the couch, book closed on my lap, staring into space.  I told her, “It was a good book, but creepy as hell.”  She said, “Put that in the review.” Great advice.

lockwood & co.: the screaming staircase by jonathan stroud book cover
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 specters, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humor and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again…

Lucy is a girl with: an exceptional ability to listen to ghosts, bad mistakes in her past, and a tendency toward obsessive preparedness.  She’s also an agent at London-based Lockwood & Co., a small outfit whose job it is to banish spirits.  To do her work Lucy abides by three rules: 1) Get in quick, 2) Don’t use electricity, and 3) Wear a watch with a luminous dial.  The other (unspoken) rule is that things never go quite as expected.  Increased hauntings are plaguing Britain, and only the young can detect and eliminate them.  Which is how/why three teenagers came to run a business of a sinister nature. 

In this first in a new paranormal series, Stroud introduces three young ghost hunters: the narrator Lucy, Anthony Lockwood and George.  Lucy is new and trying to prove her competence.  George is abrasive and fanatical about jelly doughnuts and research.  Lockwood brings them together as a clever and charismatic leader.  And Stroud unites their disparate talents and abilities to tell a dark and disturbing tale for middle grade readers.  Oh, it’s also funny, smart and can’t-put-it-down-addictive reading.  If you like mystery,danger, and stories that involve escaping by the skin of your teeth, this is the book for you.

Did I love it?  I had a hard time knowing for the first few days.  It scared the freaking daylights out of me in parts, but I couldn't stop reading.  I loved Lucy and George and Lockwood, and I will be counting down the days until the next book releases and I can find out what happens next.  I thought the mystery was extremely well-executed, with twists you could see coming, and others you couldn't.  In some ways, I was intrigued in spite of myself, because I say I don't like scary books.  And yet.  I couldn't stop thinking about The Screaming Staircase.  I think this is what being in love with a complex book looks like, folks.  Yes, I think it must be love.  Because while the story offers all the thrills and chills expected of a good ghost story, it's also about three characters who have the odds stacked against them and still rely on their ingenuity (and luck!), and let their stubborn will and intuition guide them through.  That sort of pluck will win me over any day.

Let me be clear: The Screaming Staircase is close to perfect.  It has a well-realized fantasy world with an insidious paranormal problem, engaging characters and real danger.  The story has enough twists, surprises and scares for everyone.  It's also great all-ages (10 and up?) reading - I'm giving a copy to my 23 year-old brother for the holiday.  Yeah, that's a pretty whole-hearted recommendation.  It IS love!

Recommended for: readers ages ten and up (especially those who like mysteries), fans of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, and anyone who likes a good ghost story.


mmshaunakelley said...

Some of my favorite books are those that I can't decide how I feel about at first. Some, like 1Q84, I end up disliking but respect because they made me think. Others, like The Hours, I love more and more the more time that passes.

This one sounds intriguing!

Kiirstin Maki said...

Oh man, I am always on the lookout for books like this. Not for myself, but for kids at the library. I, on the other hand, am too much of a chicken to read books that scare me into nightmares. One of the creepier ones I've read lately was Allan Stratton's Curse of the Dream Witch, which I'd say hits about the same age group and was just disturbing at points. I didn't really end up reading the whole thing, just enough to get the gist so I can hand it to the right readers. Consider it a ... recommendation?

Liviania said...

Seriously, my main complaint with this one is that it's hard to tell *when* it's set.

Cecelia said...

Liviania: I agree with you that it was a little ambiguous about exactly *when* it was set, but as phones and TVs were mentioned, I felt it was somewhere from the 60s or 70s onward... but maybe that's just me placing my own framework of knowledge on the story.

I suppose we could always ask the author!

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