The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud – Review

The Whispering Skull

Book Jacket:

In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn’t made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood’s investigations. Finally, in a fit of anger, Anthony challenges his rival to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the Times newspaper.

Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well – until George’s curiosity attracts a horrible phantom.

Back home at Portland Row, Lockwood accuses George of making too many careless mistakes. Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in the ghost jar. Then the team is summoned to DEPRAC headquarters. Kipps is there too, much to Lockwood’s annoyance. Bickerstaff’s coffin was raided and a strange glass object buried with the corpse has vanished. Inspector Barnes believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found.

The author of the blockbuster Bartimaeus series delivers another amusing, chilling, and ingeniously plotted entry in the critically acclaimed Lockwood & Co. series.

You can read an excerpt here (just click open preview).


I freaking adore this series.

The world, the characters – the adventure. The delicious blend of tension of humor. This series has an alchemy all its own, and it is delightful to partake. 

So once again Lucy, Anthony, and George – the triumvirate of Lockwood & Co – are on the case (and bickering as much as ever), as they tackle yet another ream of things that go bump in the night. And really my favorite thing about these books is that sense of teamwork, as the three of them rub up against each other and generally drive each other crazy, even as they regularly save each other’s lives. I also enjoyed how this story touched on several of the secrets each was holding dear – often to the detriment of the others – and the mistrust and hurt engendered, until reveals were begrudgingly dragged out of all three of them. And so we earn a few more clues about Lockwood’s family history, and learn of unexpected facets of George’s past. And of course, Lucy’s burgeoning talent is very much front and center, as that skull they keep around (the one in the jar) just won’t shut up – though Lucy’s the only one who can hear him. But the clues he whispers, and the larger questions as to why, exactly, he’s telling them all this, add a wonderful sense of malicious intent to the proceedings, even as Lucy’s vacillates between pride and unease at her new ability; as Lockwood’s cocksure arrogance continues to shut both Lucy and George out, and as George’s injured pride continues to hold him apart. And so we can only watch as the skull preys on their vulnerabilities all too easily – and how it seems the people most likely to hurt our trio are themselves.

But as for the case itself, it leads our team from a haunted graveyard (nothing out of the ordinary, that, given “The Problem” – which is the Brits’ oh-so-understated name for the plague of marauding ghosts terrorizing the isles), to pawn shops, from the muddy banks of the Thames to the glittering ballroom of the hallowed Fittes Agency, as our trio slowly unravels the mysterious theft of what turns out to be a particularly dangerous artifact – while being dogged by the irksome Kipps and his sour team of Fittes agents all the while. And while I admit, the villain of this piece wasn’t terribly hard to unmask – I twigged to him/her rather early on – and even more so, I don’t think this book had quite the deliciously scary oomph of the first (as that creepy, blood-soaked mansion is frankly hard to beat), I still very much enjoyed the adventure, as there were more than enough chills, spills, and swordplay to make for a marvelously entertaining affair. And I especially loved all those mysterious hints strewn throughout the story, that The Problem was only going to get worse…

So all in all, the deeds were dastardly, the rapiers of both steel and wit razor sharp, and the ghosts creepy as ever, as once again Stroud serves up a delightful scrum of humor and fright – all the while evolving the partnership of our Lockwood three. So really, I have only one thing left to say – and that is, when does the next book come out, again?

Byrt Grade: A

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

The Book Monsters say:

This series has everything I could want in a middle grade series. Great characters, a thick plot full of turns and action orientated scenes, and a setting that I love – a historical London ridden with a ghost problem. Most of all, I’m intrigued by Lockwood and his mysterious ways, I feel Lucy’s pain in not knowing enough about him but feeling compelled to want to learn more.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) says:

Rousing adventures for young tomb robbers and delvers into realms better left to the dead.