“‘Don’t look know,’ Lockwood said. ‘There’s two of them.'”
When I went to the enormously overwhelming ALA Summer Conference (that’s American Library Association to YOU) with really sweaty food poisoning, one of the books I was most excited to take home with me was a galley of the second Lockwood & Co. book, The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud. The first in the series, The Screaming Staircase, was enormously fun and actually legit scared me a little, so I was beyond excited to crack this one at the start of the Halloween season.
For the uninitiated, this is the deal. Welcome to a world a lot like ours, only this world has The Problem: a plague of ghosts, known as Visitors, whose touch can kill you and who can only be fully seen by children and teens. Our protagonist, the snarky and plucky Lucy, is gifted with the ability to hear the psychic murmurs of Visitors; Anthony Lockwood, head of Lockwood & Co., can see Visitors super duper well, and George, well, he’s really good at research, or something. I don’t totally remember if he had any other actual gifts from the first book. Anywho, together they form Lockwood & Co., and they hunt ghosts totally unhindered by the obnoxious interference of adults. In volume two, the agency is trying to solve the mystery of an unexpected grave that is heavily haunted by a lot of Visitors including one that wears a hooded cloak, and that’s NEVER a good sign. Meanwhile, Lucy has been having some seriously angsty conversations with the gross-out skull they’ve had hanging about in a jar in their house/headquarters for ages, which is plain weird AND really enormously indicative of how Talented she is. Here’s a hint: the two mysteries are connected! SURPRISE!
The Whispering Skull 100% delivered a steaming hot and delicious pizza pie of satisfied high hopes. I didn’t find it quite as frightening as The Screaming Staircase (really, is there anything more claustrophobically uncomfortable than the idea of being trapped by ghost blood dripping out of the ceiling, oozing out of the floors, flooding down the walls to surround you? GACK). The writing is that perfect blend of adventure book tension and snark that makes Stroud so wonderful. Honestly, there aren’t many writers I can think of who can create alternative realities that are so deliciously other while remaining fully rooted in our own world. This creepy, ghostly world is fully realized and compelling, in no small part because its denizens don’t truly understand The Problem themselves. I have some theories about the origin of The Problem, and I’m really exicted to see if I’m right.
The only negative here is that sometimes Lucy’s sarcasm can be a bit draining, but nobody writes insults like Stroud these days so it’s all good.
The verdict: seriously, just read this series, and if you haven’t read his STUPENDOUS Bartimaeus books, DO YOURSELF A FAVOR. I have a legion of thirteen-year-old boys who adore me because I recommended Bartimaeus to them, and if that doesn’t speak loads to how fun those books are then I don’t know what does.
Music? FUGHETTABOUTIT! What better than “Skulls” by The Misfits? NOTHING, THAT’S WHAT.
Where I got it: From the publisher (Disney-Hyperion) at the ALA summer conference.