The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Rating 9.1/10
Another brilliant book from Jonathan Stroud.

A Recommended Book of the Month

I hold The Bartimaeus Trilogy and stand-alone novel Heroes of the Valley to be amongst the finest fantasy books I have read. So when a new book from their author Jonathan Stroud arrives my expectations are very high. And I was not disappointed as Lockwood & Co - which is aimed at a slightly older audience than previous novels - proved to be another wonderfully entertaining read.

The titular Lockwood & Co. are a Psychic Investigations Agency. You see, for the past fifty years the dead have been coming back to haunt the living and when they do agencies like Lockwood & Co. are called in to destroy these dangerous apparitions. But it is only kids and teenagers that are able see and do battle with these ghosts so each agency is made up of a young workforce overseen by an adult. But there is no adult overseer to be found at the rather ramshackle agency run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood and when young Lucy Carlyle arrives in London hoping for a notable career she finds herself immediately embarking on her first case. But the case goes horribly wrong and the agency is left with one last chance to redeem itself. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive…

The most enjoyable fantasy books always supply the reader with a healthy dose of wish-fulfilment. I think this was key to the success of the Harry Potter books and the Narnia Chronicles before that and one the greatest strengths of Lockwood & Co. is that readers will wish they could live inside the book - after all, what teenager would not want to live in a massive old house, looking after themselves with no adults to order them around? And then at night they get to strap on a rapier and go out to battle the unsettled dead… Who wouldn't get a little bit excited about the prospect of being a full-time ghost-hunter? In Stroud's world it is the kids that hold the power, not the adults.

Another winning ingredient is the humour - not too much, not too little. This is where Stroud is at his very best, the humour in his books is always perfectly in balance with the storyline, never inappropriate and most impressively, consistently amusing, be it wry, cynical, silly or sarcastic. As this book is aimed at a slightly older audience than was the case for the Bartimaeus books it is much darker in theme and tone but the humour is still there, less frequent admittedly but no less funny.

The story is told through the first person narrative of Lucy Carlyle and through accounts of her adventures she manages to instil a continuous sense of tension that reminded me how I felt when I first read the excellent Spook's Apprentice by Joseph Delaney. In fact both books have much in common and any that have read and loved the Spooks books will be delighted with what they find here. This is only the first book in a series and I'm hoping that the interesting questions raised in it will be explored in the books to come: Why did these ghosts first appear 50 years ago? And why can only youngsters see them? I'm looking forward to seeing what will future will hold for our intrepid trio.

I recommended this book very highly - it is ideal for fans of Jonathan Stroud’s existing work and also those who have enjoyed Joseph Delaney’s Spooks series.

Release date: 29 Aug 2013

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