The Screaming Staircase

Lockwood & Co, Book 1
by Jonathan Stroud
First sentence: “
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: It’s a ghost story and pretty scary at times, which means, while it’s on a middle grade reading level (and it’s shelved in the middle grade — 3-5th grade — section of my library), I’d be pretty wary about giving this to a Sensitive Child. There’s also a handful of mild swear words.

Even though I saw the rave reviews and the gushing praises, I put off reading this one for much too long. Even though I’ve loved Stroud’s books in the past, I was wary of the rave reviews: it couldn’t be THAT good, could it?

Well, yes. Yes, it was.

Set in a London where there is a Problem with ghosts — they’re everywhere, infesting the buildings and graveyards  — and where only the young can see, and subsequently fight, them. Usually, those with the Talent to see/hear the ghosts, are supervised by adults, but at Lockwood & Co. there’s no such oversight. It’s just Anthony Lockwood, George, and Lucy, teenagers and ghost fighters extraordinaire.

Okay, so it’s not that simple. Lucy and George constantly bicker, and Lockwood is more optimistic about the future of his company than actually capable of running it. But the three of them are talented ghost fighters (hunters? I wasn’t quite sure what to call them), and even though they’re not exactly careful, they get the job done.

Then, on a routine clearing, Lockwood and Lucy stumble on a particularly fierce ghost. It turns out that it was Annabel Ward, a socialite and actress who was murdered and shoved into a chimney. This captures the imagination of our narrator, Lucy, and she ropes the boys into helping her figure out what, exactly, happened to Annabel 50 years ago. One of the best things about this book is the way Stroud handles the mystery: he gives us enough clues as we go along to make a good guess, but it also isn’t the only element to the book. Neither is the ghost Problem. There’s enough layers and depth in this book to keep even the most reluctant of readers interested.

And even though it takes a good 2/3 of the book to get to where the title came from, it all comes together splendidly (fantastically, I might add) at the end.

Additionally, Stroud knows how to do atmosphere. It’s creepy, it’s funny, it’s haunting. It’s eloquent. One passage that stuck out (it’s near the end, but it doesn’t give anything away):

All around us rose the scream, issuing directly from the steps and stones. Its volume was appalling — as painful as repeated blows — but it was the psychic distress it carried that made it so unbearable, that made your gorge rise and your head split and the world spin before your eyes. It was the sound of the terror of
death, drawn out indefinitely, extending on forever. It spiraled around us, clawing at our minds. 

It’s not just good. It’s brilliant.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

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