The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Brief Summary: Lockwood, Lucy, and George comprise the ghost exorcising agency called Lockwood & Co., the only ghost agency run by teenagers. Struggling to keep their company afloat, they take on dangerous assignment after dangerous assignment, straining their talents to the max. One burned down house, one mysterious locket, and one looming conspiracy later, they may have uncovered something lurking in London’s past that is more evil than they could have ever imagined.
The Tsundoku Scale: Top of the Pile, 10 out of 10.
The Good: Jonathan Stroud excels at making books that possess really great, exemplary dark humor, and The Screaming Staircase is no exception. So many books labeled dark humor end up unable to toe the line, and come off either more dark than funny (Gulliver’s Travels) or almost too funny for its dark subject matter (The Book of Bunny Suicides), but Stroud has that deadpan British humor perfected, and it’s a joy to read. This is a grisly, dystopian world Stroud is depicting where teenage kids have pretty much no choice but to exorcise dangerous ghosts for a living—ghosts that are likely to kill them. And yet the comedy is spot on, like when Lockwood & Co. burn down their client’s entire house when trying to exorcise one little, though rather strong, ghost. (To put that in perspective, imagine a rodent exterminator burning down your house to remove a few rodents.) Or, for instance, there’s the fact that George, Lockwood & Co’s brilliant albeit cantankerous researcher often conducts his experiments on ghosts while taking a bath in the nude. Basically, Lockwood & Co are a bumbling, comic bunch of professional ghost killers that are always one step away from disaster, kind of like the Mystery Inc. gang in Scooby Doo, and you just never know what they’ll do next. But what’s great about this book is that there is so much more going on than this first impression, as the story still maintains its dark context: Lockwood himself has a mysterious past and is hiding something from the rest of his team, there may be some kind of conspiracy and corruption within the ghost exorcising agencies, and no one at all knows why the ghost have come to terrorize England in the first place! Best of all however, this book is what I like to call an honest man’s trilogy. Though the story leaves enough loose ends, like those mentioned above, to make the reader want to read the next installment, the book stays honest—it remains a full story in and of itself that wraps up nicely as a single book. And I can’t wait to meet a Type III ghost in the next book!
The Bad: I do worry that the story may end up being too formulaic as the series progresses, but as of now I’m confident that it will continue to hold my interest. Other than that, I’ll always miss the footnotes from the Bartimaeus trilogy, as they were the first and only time I have ever enjoyed reading footnotes, but though this story (sadly) does not also have footnotes, it doesn’t need them. This is a great book!