“The Whispering Skull” http://www.amazon.com/Lockwood-Co-Book-Whispering-Skull/dp/142316492X is the terrific followup to Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase, just reviewed on these pages. Stroud has re-imagined England as beset by murdered Visitors, who have been forcibly ejected from their mortal coil, but have not ascended to heaven or descended to hell. Instead the ghosts are trapped on the earthly plane and they are vengeful and deadly. Haunting people’s houses and places, they must be rooted out by armed agents, who must find their Source – an object that had some resonance for the Visitor.
Lockwood & Co. are a teen team of Lucy Carlye, Anthony Lockwood and George Cubbins, who are ghost hunters taking contracts from people to help them get rid of the nefarious shades. As we know from the first book, Lockwood is a swordsman and dashing leader who likes action, Cubbins is more a researcher and Lucy is both good with a sword, plus has a unique psychic talent, which allows her to both sense the intentions of the Visitors, and also to directly communicate with them. The whispering skull is a captured Visitor in a locked ghost proof jar that has directly spoken to Lucy and may or may not help her in her adventures. Its hard to tell because who can trust an evil Visitor.
During an encounter with a Visitor, Cubbins is almost killed by the specter of Edmund Bickerstaff, a notorious grave digger of evil renown. It seems that Bickerstaff created a magic mirror that some think can give you a glimpse of the other side. After vanquishing the ghost, Bickerstaff’s coffin and mirror are secured in a chapel. But that very night the mirror is stolen.
DEPRAC, the English government department that keeps Agencies in check and destroys the Sources, hires Lockwood & Co and Fittes Agency to try to track down the missing mirror. As there is no love lost between the two agencies, they swiftly bet on the outcome and independently try to track down the mirror.
This adventurous quest will lead Lockwood & Co. to a pungently smelling relic woman, Flo Bonnard, who dangerously hunts for actual Sources to sell to people who want the illegal, and the larcenous Mr. Winkman, a fence for the well to do, who sells Sources instead of destroying them. All the while, Lucy is communicating with the skull, who seems to have known Bickerstaff when they both were alive.
If you are looking for deep character analysis, this is not your book. But if you want action sequences, fast footed and quick thinking, creepy good fun, youthful protagonists, bravery, wittiness and great storytelling, then this is a book for you and your children.
I liked it better than the first, but both are equally good.