Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Screaming Staircase

by Jonathan Stroud (September 17th 2013, Disney-Hyperion)

Book Description:

For more than fifty years, the British Isles have been beset by a variety of lethal ghosts. To combat the problem, a number Psychic Investigations Agencies were created. But there is a catch. Only children can see or hear these dangerous beings.
Lucy Carlyle, a highly talented Agent, has left home in shame without her last qualifying certificate. Unable to find work in any of the bigger agencies, she is taken on by Anthony Lockwood, the young, charismatic owner of Lockwood & Co.

Lucy feels like she has finally found a place where she belongs, but after a string of failed cases and a large debt owed for setting a client’s house on fire, Lockwood & Co. is in dire straits.

Forced to agree to a very dangerous case or risk losing the agency Lucy, Lockwood, and George take on the most haunted house in England.


Character is king in the Screaming Staircase. Our three protagonists are so compelling and well-realized that they practically leap off the page.

Unobtrusive to a fault Lucy Carlyle, our eye and ears, is smart, funny, and tough. Armed with a unique set of skills (even amongst her peers), she makes for a great narrator. Anthony Lockwood, her charismatic leader, is mysterious and charming; and brings a wonderful sense of irreverent fun to the book. The last member of Lockwood & Co. – and in many ways my favorite – is George Cubbins. With his painful honesty, razor-sharp intelligence, and even sharper tongue, he is the prefect foil to Lockwood’s diplomatic charm. 

Though not as luminous as the characters, the world-building here is excellent as well. Stroud has created a London that is both familiar and hauntingly mysterious. The effects of the Problem are well integrated, from small details like the popularity of lavender (to ward off Visitors) to the far-reaching echoes like creation of the Psychic Investigations Agencies, and the use of children as agents. 

The plot is strong, too, and the main mystery intriguing and aside from some momentum lost in telling Lucy’s backstory, the book remains action-packed and engaging. 


The only complaint I have about the Screaming Staircase is Stroud’s decision to stop in the middle of the action and recount – more or less -- Lucy’s life story. 

Thankfully, it wasn’t boring and it did give important information as far as the Problem was concerned. It was too long, however, and Stroud could interspersed it throughout the story rather than in one big chunk.


Brilliantly realized world-building, an engrossing mystery, three exceptionally likable protagonist, and excellent writing make the Screaming Staircase a book to be read and savored by anyone who can. 

Rating: (9.5/10)

Get it on Book Depository 

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