Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud – Advance Review

Lockwood and Co UK

Book Jacket:

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in…

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again…

You can read an excerpt here.


Rapier-wielding, salt-and-iron-hand-grenade toting teens who face down deadly haunts as they try to scrape a living? Oh yes, please.

Indeed Stroud has delivered the spooky adventure tale I’ve always wanted to read – a tale of teamwork and derring-do, of rash decisions and costly mistakes, as three teens snipe even as they save each other’s lives. Add in delicious British humor, well-rounded world building, spooky ambiance, blood-curdling ghosts and a fun mystery, and you have pretty much everything you could possibly want from a ghost story – and I loved every bit of it.

So you may be thinking, yes, yes, fine, yet another ghostly tale of London haunts – but Stroud is utterly brilliant in how he’s made everything about this world distinct. From the mysterious, unknown cause behind the deadly plague of ghosts (who are categorized as type one through three, depending on their threat-level), to the proliferation of ghost-busting agencies, many of whom work in tandem with the police (Fittes and Rotwells, of course, being the very best), to the industrial tycoon whose ironworks have made him a fortune by providing everyone with anti-ghost protections (from bracelets for newborns to iron bars), everything in this world is entirely recognizable and yet also entirely Stroud’s own. From top to bottom, from the way bystanders react to the sight of even pre-teens wearing rapiers (with the respect due their profession), to the threat of lawsuits when cases go awry, Stroud’s world-building has a delightful, pervasive, subversive sense of originality that delivers a fresh sense of discovery, even as we tread familiar streets and genre-lines.

As for the characters themselves, they too are delightfully distinct – from enthusiastic and at times reckless Lockwood, to dour George, he of the questionable personal hygiene, and of course we can’t forget Lucy, our tart narrator, whose British reserve is often cracked by her impatience. Lucy, the newest to the team, is competent and spunky in action, but she does still very much have something to prove to herself – though she’s clearly the only one who doesn’t realize how indispensable she’s become, due to her rare talent. And as our teens muck up, dust up, and squabble amongst themselves, Stroud slowly builds a wonderful sense of esprit de corps, of people who might not like each other very much at times, but will still always be there for each other – and I have to say, I am such a sucker for a good team dynamic, which Stroud delivers, in spades.

And of course, we can’t forgot the ghosts. In terms of chills and hair-raising haunts, this story does deliver  – just wait ’till you get to the Red Room – and Stroud does a wonderful job building suspense and foreboding as our crack team makes its way through many a spooky house in the dark. Adventure, suspense, and thrills, with a murder-mystery spine to tie it all together, this book has it all – and Stroud’s wonderful way with language is equally apt with humor and chills. In the end, this book is smart, fun, and at all times, impeccably British – I mean, how often can you enjoy the word “pootling” in a ghost story, I ask you? – and it makes for one highly entertaining read.

So as I’ve said before, I’ll say again – this, I love. The Screaming Staircase is easily the most fun I’ve had reading a ghost story all year, and I promise you, I will be among the first in line when the next book comes out. 

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Publishers Weekly says:

Stroud (the Bartimaeus series) shows his customary flair for blending deadpan humor with thrilling action, and the fiery interplay among the three agents of Lockwood & Co. invigorates the story (along with no shortage of creepy moments). Stroud plays with ghost story conventions along the way, while laying intriguing groundwork that suggests that the Problem isn’t the only problem these young agents will face in books to come – the living can be dangerous, too.

School Library Journal says:

Smart as a whip, funny, witty, and honestly frightening at times, Stroud lets loose and gives readers exactly what they want. Ghosts, kids on their own without adult supervision, and loads of delicious cookies…There is no debate surrounding the joy one feels when reading this book. It is already beloved.

Science Fiction World says:

With plentiful wit and good humour, more than a few chilling moments and, above all, refreshing creativity, Jonathan Stroud has constructed an energetic, fast paced narrative that trips nimbly back and forth from the present to the past as he first sketches and then deftly paints this fascinating landscape. Events are seen through Lucy’s eyes – sometimes coolly appraising, sometimes fiery – as mishap and miscalculation and the curious interconnection of seemingly unrelated cases take the three young agents on a thrilling (read, terrifying) journey that promises, finally, to bring the team together…although, perhaps, they will be together in an early grave…