Double Review: Books 1-2 of the ‘Lockwood and Co’ series by Jonathan Stroud

Blurb from GoodReads: Book 1 of the Lockwood & Co series: ‘The Screaming Staircase’: 

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

Review for ‘The Screaming Staircase’: 

Oh wow the first two books in this series are so, so, SO good! Spook, atmospheric, the sort of chill-you-to-the-bone writing that you struggle to let go of. Amazing, inventive descriptions and imagery, too, and a sense that the three teenage main characters (witty, secretive Lockwood, brave, determined Lucy, loyal George) really solidify, over time, into one well-oiled ghost fighting machine. I particularly loved the world-building aspect to this- a kind of semi-Victorian take on London where defences against ghosts (e.g. lavender, running water) have been built right into the heart of the city. I also loved the idea of rival ghost-hunting agencies inflated with money, arrogance and pride, but unfortunately more resources. Lockwood and Co, although the shabbiest agency- and the only one without uniforms- are by far the best, and their adventures in creepy manors, haunted houses and with dangerous relics (a possessed locket in ‘The Screaming Staircase’, a talking skull in ‘The Whispering Skull’,) had me utterly gripped from page one. ‘The Screaming Staircase’ was particularly excellent in parts- I found I couldn’t put it down, I simply had to find out what the inscription on the locket meant. I loved the idea of Annabel’s ghost, too, although I didn’t quite believe how usually rational, pragmatic Lucy would be foolish enough to take the locket away with her when the spirit inside it hadn’t been properly contained.

Blurb for Book 2 of the Lockwood & Co series: ‘The Whispering Skull’

In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn’t made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood‘s investigations. Finally, in a fit of anger, Anthony challenges his rival to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the Times newspaper.

Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well-until George’s curiosity attracts a horrible phantom.

Back home at Portland Row, Lockwood accuses George of making too many careless mistakes. Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in the ghost jar. Then the team is summoned to DEPRAC headquarters. Kipps is there too, much to Lockwood‘s annoyance. Bickerstaff’s coffin was raided and a strange glass object buried with the corpse has vanished. Inspector Barnes believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found.

Review for ‘The Whispering Skull’:

In ‘The Whispering Skull’ I loved the strong vein of dark, witty humour that  runs throughout- I really needed this, as otherwise it would have been too macabre for me. (The talking skull is in itself weirdly hilarious,) and I loved the idea of Lockwood and Co investigating a seemingly occult figure who had a mysterious death (probably murder- no spoilers!) Although some parts were a bit slow for me- particularly parts to do with researching the ‘bone-glass’ relic that Lockwood and the others stumbled upon, I did enjoy the introduction of new, engaging characters such as snappy, sarcastic Flo Bones, a rogue, homeless relic hunter forced to comb beaches for any traces of ghostly activity. I was very impressed with how the skull itself also came to play such a key role in the plot.

My criticisms, however, remain quite big ones: I was nearly halfway through ‘The Screaming Staircase’ before I realized it was set in the modern day, and not the Victorian era. The writing seems too precise, to anachronistic- even down to the way Lucy speaks-to be modern-day. This feels like a mis-step to me: I would have much preferred it to be set within the murky gas-lights and shadows of Victorian London- modern references (e.g. flip flops, corner shops,) jarred me. Overall though, this is an impressive new series from a highly talented writer. I am halfway through the third, ‘The Hollow Boy’, so stay tuned for another review!

Overall rating: 8 out of 10

This book in four words: Creepy. Atmospheric. Macabre. Funny.

Read if you enjoyed: ‘Skulduggery Pleasant’ by Derek Landy (read my review of Books 1-2 here.)

Favourite Character: Anthony Lockwood

Diversity checklist: No LGBTQ characters as of yet, which is a bit disappointing, but I live in hope!

Image from neaarty on Tumblr

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