This is a review of “The Screaming Staircase” which is the first book in the Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud.
The dead are back to haunt the living, and evil spirits crowd the streets after dark. With ghostly criminal cases on the rise, psychic investigations agents are in demand as never before. The smallest – but arguably the best – of these agencies is Lockwood & Co. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, however, they have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending a night in one of the most haunted houses in all of England, and living to tell the tale.
This was a bit of excellent world building. A lot of thought went into how people would deal with living with the problem of ghosts of all kinds, and it shows. The ghost-lamps, the various tools, the various agencies dealing with the problem, the producers of the equipment. It was full of depth and it made the world come alive.
The science of the ghosts themselves was also well thought out. It was just complicated enough to be deep and yet simple enough to not need too much explanation, and enough to keep one’s attention. The descriptions of specters and ghosts, their effect on humans and their surroundings, was literally bone chilling. The action itself is also very well written.
Unfortunately there are difficulties with this book.
I did not like that the first thing one focused on – and continued focusing on – was Goerge Cobbins’s looks as a reason (especially as the main reason) to hate him, rather than his attitude. The former shouldn’t matter, but the latter might actually have insulted someone into disliking him. Lockwood himself also has a moment of hypocrisy when he berates Lucy for accidentally hiding stuff from the team, only to do the same a second later.
Lucy taking two cookies at the end of her interview somehow gave her the job. I am uncertain of exactly why that is so, what the point was of that. It wasn’t explained at all, and it was confusing. There were a couple of other similar, equally as confusing small situations and lines of dialogue through the rest of the book.
There was a bit too much similarity between Anthony Lockwood and BBC’s Sherlock Holmes as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbach. They have the same manic, mercurial moods. The brief foray Lockwood makes to the town they are to go to, disguised and seeking information, has painfully strong ties to the tale of the “Hound of the Baskervilles” and what Sherlock Holmes does in that story. The similarity between the two characters was so strong that it was difficult to tear away from it, and it overshadowed Lucy and George so much that they are made forgettable.
The last problem with this book is that there is a big break between the two main cases even if they are connected. The break is just a bit too awkward, a bit too abrupt, and it is quite obvious. That means that it seems like the book uses far too much time setting up the story, the world, the characters, and then rushes through the the big case – the Screaming Staircase itself. Which it does. The case of the Screaming Staircase is barely twenty pages long at the most, from start to finish, and that is far too short. The title is misleading, and the book doesn’t deliver on that promise.
All in all, it’s a good book for children, spooky and fast paced, and an okay read for adults, but it’s nothing truly special to write home about.
I won’t be reading the rest of the series.