In the spirit of The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, I call my discovery of it “The Case of Forgetting an Author.” I’d read The Amulet of Samarkand a few years back and enjoyed it enough to read the rest of the series. Then I promptly forgot about Jonathan Stroud. When I heard he had a series following a couple of teen ghost hunters, I was intrigued. Since I’m a wimp when it comes to scary things, I wasn’t sure how I would like the series. Plus, my library only had an audio version of the first book, and I generally prefer to read my fiction and listen to my non-fiction. But one afternoon I was out of new podcast episodes to listen to on my run, so I downloaded the audio files and told myself I could stop at the first gruesome scene. I loved it.
The dead have not stayed quiet in England for the past 50 years. Experts are no closer to solving the mystery of the Problem than when it began. Since only sensitive children can detect the ghosts, Psychic Detection Agencies train and employ talented children to contain the ghosts under the direction of adult supervisors. Lucy Carlyle, newly on her own in London, is turned away from agency after agency until she lands at Lockwood & Co.: the only agency in London operated entirely by adolescents. “Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co. I intend to say little, in part to protect the identity of the victims, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.”
After burning down a client’s home on a particularly difficult case (oops.), Lockwood & Co. has a matter of weeks to raise an exorbitant amount of money or lose their operating license. That would be difficult for the small agency in normal times. After their most recent, well-publicized disaster it is impossible. That is until they are presented with a dangerous but lucrative offer: spend the night in England’s most haunted house and solve the mystery of the Screaming Staircase.
I loved so many things about this book. I was chuckling just a few minutes in, which should not have surprised me; Jonathan Stroud writes very wry dialogue. I also found the premise of the book fascinating. A host of new companies and government agencies have cropped up to deal with the problem: Fairfax Iron, the leading maker of iron chains and ornaments (iron repels ghosts); the official department that oversees the agencies in town, DEPRAC (Department of Physical Research and Containment); night taxis and cafes, the heavily-protected taxis and restaurants that cater to children out at night. That’s not to say the book is just a long list of all the changes in London. In the best way, The Screaming Staircase is 60% action, 30% character development, and 10% intriguing premise.
The end of the book was intense, but that was partly my own fault. I was listening to the end lying in bed because I couldn’t stand going to sleep before I finished the book. My heart was pounding by the end, but the book wasn’t especially gruesome or nightmare-inducing. I immediately downloaded books 2 and 3 in the series and listened in fast succession. (Did I finish the other two in the middle of the night as well? Why yes, I did.) A fourth book comes out this year (yay) but not until September (boo). I really enjoyed listening to the series, so I plan to spend the next five months deciding if I’ll buy the print or audio version when The Creeping Shadow is released.
I would recommend this to: wimpy teens or adults who enjoy being scared (just a little).