Jonathan Stroud’s ghost hunter novel, “The Screaming Staircase”, is terrific. Ostensibly for pre-teens, the creepy doings in this supernatural tale will work for any age group. Although full of ghosts, specters, dark places and suspenseful doings, Stroud artfully fills his story with enough humor and hi-jinks to keep your focus on the ghost hunters and not the monsters. There is nary a scary moment. Just a swift fun read.
Best of all, Lucy is a great narrator for the story. No beauty in her own mind, but intrepid, courageous, witty and smart. And rather than fall into the trap of escalating the horror aspects, Stroud keeps the story light, the camaraderie between the characters, and trappings of the story so perfect. And of course, none of the plans of Lucy, Lockwood and George go smoothly.
In Stroud’s re-imagined England, the world is beset by the “Problem”. Dead victims of murder and/or dead murderers – Visitors is Stroud’s name for the the ghosts – started to haunt places where they had been killed. But these Visitors are not at all like Casper. They can do real harm to the living. A ghost could freeze you in place, and once ghost locked, if you were touched long enough by the specter, you could turn blue and meet your maker.
Rotwell and Fittes, the pioneers of ghost hunting showed that iron, running water, salt and magnesium flares disrupted the Visitors. But the most important thing was to find the “Source”. Visitors imbued an object -a bone, a mirror, a necklace – and haunted around that object. Find the Source and destroy it, and the haunting ended. Unfortunately only children had the psychic ability to feel and find the Visitors. So the agencies were formed – training grounds for children agents armed with iron rapiers to hunt down the Sources of the Visitors in the dark when the Visitors are their most dangerous and destroy them.
Lucy Caryle, a trained young agent from the countryside has come to London to make her way as an agent. First she has to interview, which is a fun introduction to the other characters.
Once she has gotten a job as an agent at Lockwood & Co., a small independent agency in London led by the dashing Anthony Lockwood and his researcher ex- Fittes agent the bespectacled George Cubbin, the story takes off. Lucy’s talent is touch and as a Listener. She can feel the presence of ghosts, and sometimes feel their motivations.
In their first mission, Lucy and Lockwood are hired to stop a haunting at the Hope’s house, where the father has recently died, but in the ensuing investigation, discover that there was another killing there. In a perilous turn of events, which they barely escape, Lucy discovers the diabolical murder of a young actress. But in order to elude the vengeful Visitor, Lockwood and Lucy unfortunately burn the top floor of the Hope house. As a result of the fire, Lockwood & Co are sued by the family, which demands ₤60,000 to fix their house.
Lucy, however, feels a connection with the victim of the crime / Visitor Annabel Wald and ends up taking / stealing a necklace that belonged to her and that is her Source. She wants to find out who killed the girl. They all turn their attention to the locket and believe that Ms. Wald was killed by an old beau, but there is no evidence. But the inside of the locket has a mysterious coded clue to the killer. And someone know else knows about the locket, the murderer who wants to keep them from finding out his secret identity.
Beset by money troubles, a murderer who wants to remain hidden, and unwelcome government attention, Lockwood & Co are struggling to survive as an agency. When they get a opportunity from Lord Falifax to investigate a multiple haunted house that has a less than savory history, they must take it. Most of the past owners of the house have been killed in particularly nasty ways. Falifax wants Lockwood, Lucy and George to find the source of the haunting of the Screaming Staircase and the Red Room. The names alone give me chills.
Can they survive a night and will they find the secret of Annabel Wald’s murder. Take a walk on the other side. Its creepy good fun.