If you are looking for the perfect place to be this Halloween, sitting curled up on the couch reading The Whispering Skull – the latest young adult novel by Jonathan Stroud – is bound to be the best Halloween fun you have ever had.
Stroud, who is renowned for his Bartimaeus series, is back with the second instalment of the Lockwood & Co series – after The Screaming Staircase – which is about three young ghost hunters working in London. This is not London as you know it – this is a fantastical, dark eerie London besieged by an unexplainable infestation of psychic phenomena, known as “The Problem”. By no means a small “problem”, these ghosts and ghouls are remnants of violence and aggression, and their plentiful manifestations rampaging around London are a mortal threat to the public and the ghost hunters alike.
Lockwood, George and Lucy are the entertaining trio who staff the Lockwood Investigation Agency: Lucy is just young enough to still have “the talent”, meaning she is highly psychic and can pick up on otherworldly signs and communicate with ghosts. George – the smart, nerdy one – is the official researcher, while Lockwood himself – tall, sharp and enigmatic – is the leader of the pack. Armed with salt, silver rapiers, magnesium flares and lavender, Lockwood & Co are charged with finding and “binding ” ghosts around London. As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, Lucy, George and Lockwood also have to contend with their meddling arch enemy rivals – Vernon Kipps and his crew from the large and glamorous “Fittes Agency” – who are busy trying to interfere with Lockwood & Co’s cases. When during a routine “binding” at the graveside of a sinister Victorian doctor a mysterious and obviously very dangerous mirror is discovered – and later stolen – Lockwood & Co are engaged to work alongside The Fittes Agency to recover the missing object, and a nightmare – on more levels than one – is unleashed on the unsuspecting Lucy, George and Lockwood.
The Whispering Skull is a superb example of a novel that was written with young adults in mind, yet is also absolutely engaging and appropriate for an adult readership. The world that has been created by Stroud is one that is entirely riveting, absorbing and believable, no matter what your age-group. The strong characterisations – especially feisty, smart and funny Lucy – make you want to inhabit one of the characters, just so you can remain part of their world, even if it is breathtakingly scary at times. Each detail is smartly thought-out and builds on the series as a whole – there are obviously more Lockwood & Co mysteries in the pipeline, and the cliff-hanger at the end of The Whispering Skull will make you want to somehow jump into a time machine into the future, just so you don’t have to wait another year or so to find out what happens next!