For roughly fifty years, the British Isles have been haunted by a Problem. Increasing numbers of ghosts are haunting homes and objects, with sometimes dangerous results. While adults might sense the ghosts, and can definitely be injured or even killed by them, they are unable to neutralize the ghosts. Children are the best at sensing ghosts, so psychic investigation agencies staffed by young people with strong Talents have sprung up to deal with the Problem.
Lucy Carlyle, who has been working as an operative since she was eight years old, is the newest employee at Lockwood & Co. in London. It's not the biggest agency, nor the best known, but its young founder, Anthony Lockwood, treasures the agency's independence. He and his employees have successfully dealt with difficult and tricky cases. They get the job done—for the most part, anyway. Still, Lockwood would like the agency to receive more acclaim, not to mention better, and more interesting, cases...
Unfortunately, the agency makes headlines for the wrong reasons after one job goes disastrously wrong. Even so, one of the richest men in the country makes Lockwood an offer that would significantly improve Lockwood & Co.'s reputation: investigate—and survive a night in—one of the most haunted private homes in England. It's a strange offer, but Lockwood agrees that he, Lucy, and Lockwood's only other employee, George, will spend a night at Combe Carey Hall, where strange and horrible deaths have occurred for centuries.
Jonathan Stroud's The Screaming Staircase, the first book in the Lockwood & Co. series, is both deliciously creepy and delightfully amusing. Lucy is our narrator, taking us through several investigations as well as introducing us to the practicalities of tracking down and containing ghosts. Yes, salt and iron are of utmost importance, but so is a good pot of tea. It's the little touches like this, and the naming of one the earliest investigators and the agency he subsequently founded (Rotwell), that made this such an entertaining and enjoyable book to me. Stroud's worldbuilding in the larger sense is clever, too, as is the character development. Lucy, Anthony, and George bicker frequently, realistically, and to humorous effect, but together they make a great team and I am looking forward to reading more of their adventures.
The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1) by Jonathan Stroud
Middle grade fantasy/horror
Published in the U.S. by Disney Hyperion in 2013
Hardcover ISBN: 9781423164913
Paperback ISBN: 9781423186922