Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase
London, Doubleday, 2013, 440p
I am not a huge fan of ghost stories - either I find it too hard to suspend my disbelief or I get too creeped out - and I abhor hard back novels - they are much too hard to read in comfort. And yet, I found The Screaming Staircase to be a clever, gripping horror story with witty and complete characters.
The story begins with Lockwood and Co on a case. Lucy and Lockwood have been left alone in a haunted house, where the owners suspect evil is hidden somewhere. Armed with iron filings and rapiers, the two young detectives set out to find the Source. Lucy can hear the whispers of the ghost, whilst Lockwood is able to see them in the dark. Children are more sensitive to the elements, and across England, bands of young ghost hunters are employed to find and suppress ghosts.
I loved that this novel jumped right into the action - in the second part of the novel, Lucy takes us back to contextualise the situation, explaining all about the Problem. Some fifty years ago, sightings and hauntings increased dramatically, giving rise to a number of government policies to protect people from ghosts. The most popular solution tended to be the use of agencies such as Lockwood & Co., though this company is somewhat smaller of staff and reputation than some of it's competitors. Throughout the novel, Lockwood, his business partner George, and their new employee, Lucy, plot to get the company to the top of it's game.
The Screaming Staircase is a rather long novel, but I did not feel that way. I quickly engaged with Lucy, a feisty, self-assured young girl, though often others fail to see her value. Lockwood and George are an entertaining double act, one being always eager to jump into danger whilst the other would prefer to spend hours researching before approaching any new case.
The ghostly element of the novel is suspenseful and memorable. The fear creeps up on you, so that the early pages lure you into a false sense of security and by the end you are unable to stop reading. Jonathan Stroud is a measured guide through the story, taking you on highs and lows of drama and horror. The combination of mystery and thriller was more than enough to keep me completely enthralled into the early hours of the morning.