Cover art © Alan Ayars.
I thoroughly enjoyed Stroud’s “Bartimaeus” series, this is the first book of a new one. Young Lucy Carlyle has grown up in an England much like ours in some ways, but very different in others. Her England is suffering a plague of ghosts. Ghosts that are not just frightening, but also deadly. Their touch can injure and even kill the living. Many are hapless spirits who hardly know they’re no longer alive, but some are filled with hatred and evil, and are anxious to take vengeance on the living. Lucy is one of the few children with a strong sensitivity to ghosts. Her specialty is in hearing them. Children are much more sensitive than adults, and are recruited to work on teams of psychic investigators. Lucy’s early experiences with one such team ended in disaster, and she’s come to London looking for work with another group. The larger companies all reject her, but the small firm of Lockwood & Company takes her on. Unlike most, this firm is run by a teenager, Anthony Lockwood, rather than an adult. The only other member of the team, George, has doubts about Lucy, but she soon proves she can handle herself in danger, and her abilities are potent.
Unfortunately, Anthony Lockwood is impetuous and doesn’t always follow the rules and guidelines for safety. When he and Lucy attempt to defeat a dangerous ghost haunting a London mansion, things get out of hand, and the entire house goes up in flames. Lucy and Anthony barely escape with their lives. The police are anxious to shut them down, and their reputation is now in ruins. Only an even bigger job carried out successfully can save the firm, and in the nick of time one presents itself. They’re asked to spend the night in one of the most haunted places in England, Combe Carey Hall, home of the Screaming Staircase, among other horrors that have defeated and even killed other investigators. There’s something very suspicious about their client, too. Can Anthony come up with a plan that will get them through the scariest night of their life?
This is a suspenseful and exciting thrill ride that I had a hard time putting down. One of the most compelling and frightening books I’ve read in a long time. As an old jaded reader, that’s saying a lot. The characters are great, and the world Stroud has created is rich with detail and very believable. I’m planning on reading the rest of the series. The film rights are sold, which is no surprise. If it’s as good as the book, it could be very successful.