Monday 24 November 2014

Lockwood & Co: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Don’t look now,’ Lockwood said. ‘There’s two of them.’
I snatched a glance behind me and saw that he was right. Not far off, on the other side of the glade, a second ghost had risen from the earth. Like the first, it was a pale, man-shaped curtain of mist that hovered above the dark wet grass. Its head too seemed oddly skewed, as if broken at the neck. I glared at it, not so much terrified as annoyed. Twelve months I’d been working for Lockwood & Co. as a Junior Field Operative, tackling spectral Visitors of every horrific shape and size. Broken necks didn’t bother me the way they used to.
‘Oh, that’s brilliant,’ I said.’ Where did he spring from?’
Published by Random House in September 2014
496 pages in hardback
Summary from publishers’ website
Ghosts and ghouls beware! London’s smallest, shabbiest and most talented psychic detection agency is back.  Life is never exactly peaceful for Lockwood & Co. Lucy and George are trying to solve the mystery of the talking skull trapped in their ghost jar, while Lockwood is desperate for an exciting new case. 
Things seem to be looking up when the team is called to Kensal Green Cemetery to investigate the grave of a sinister Victorian doctor. Strange apparitions have been seen there, and the site must be made safe. As usual, Lockwood is confident; as usual, everything goes wrong – a terrible phantom is freed and a dangerous object is stolen from the coffin.  Lockwood & Co. must recover the relic before its power is unleashed, but it’s a race against time. Their obnoxious rivals from the Fittes agency are also on the hunt. And if that’s not bad enough, the skull in the ghost-jar is stirring again…
I decided I’d better read the first Lockwood story [the Screaming Staircase] before I reviewed this. I’m glad that I did.
They are both great fun – in a spooky way – but this second one’s even better. If you like a mixture of detective novel with creepy bits mashed up with humour in an alternative ‘now’ – then these are for you. 
There’s a really pleasing balance of chills, thrills and laughs – I could so see it as a serial in the manner of Randall and Hopkirk [Deceased] if anyone remembers that. One of the best things is there are two boys and a
girl involved – and not a hint of a love triangle. Hurrah. Adventure, risk, strong female characters – and no soppiness. What more do you want from this sort of book?
It’s not profound – it never makes any claim to be – but the friendships are well drawn and the sense of honour in our investigators is engaging. There are some ongoing strands which are not fully resolved – so you know there are more books to come – but this one has more completeness than the first, perhaps. I found this plot more satisfying though sometimes I do get pulled out of the story by strange details – like rapiers and Velcro. This is probably an adult perspective – and a finicky one at that. I doubt younger readers will notice at all.
I would recommend these for when you want a fast-moving, entertaining read with likeable central characters – and you love a mix of eerie and funny. You want to be a competent reader – but audio would be great too. I hadn’t really expected to – but I’ll definitely be looking forward to the next one!

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