I loved Stroud’s Bartimaeus series – so tucked into the audiobook version of the first book, strongly encouraged by The Cap, who loved The Screaming Staircase – see my review here – to find it a joy. So it was only a matter of time before I treated myself to this, the second book in the series…
BLURB: 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…
That is as much of the blurb as I’m willing to share – but I would say that if you have encountered this book without having yet had the pleasure of reading The Screaming Staircase, then don’t go any further. This is a complex, layered world and Stroud has designed these books to build on the narrative arc, therefore you’ll miss far too much that is important if you crash midway into this series. And yes… I regularly crash midway into series, so when I say ‘don’t’ I mean it.
This alternate contemporary world, where if someone dies violently or in unhappy circumstances, their ghosts can linger and at their most lethal, kill those unfortunate to encounter them. Adults and most children cannot see or sense these dangerous spirits, but a handful of children gifted, or cursed, with the ability to see, sense or hear these ghosts are employed by agencies to help neutralise them. Anthony Lockwood, George Cubbins and Lucy Carlyle are three such teenagers, who prefer to work on their own instead of being directed by adults who can no longer take part in the really dangerous part of the work.
Artefacts which are strongly associated with a death can be possessed by one of these dangerous spirits. The authorities charged with trying to find a solution to The Problem, as this sudden widespread haunting is called, are keen to possess all such artefacts – but there is also a thriving black market in such objects. Lockwood & Co are aware of the fact, but when the job they are working on ends in sudden chaos and danger, they are charged to track down a particular artefact. Though it rapidly becomes apparent that this is a very dangerous undertaking.
However, the threat of death is never far away in this job, anyway… Stroud’s vivid, darkly threatening world once more pulled me in and Katie Lyon’s narration, while not quite as brilliant as Miranda Raison, is still gripping and effectively portrays Lucy’s first person viewpoint. I would add that as well as being genuinely creepy in places, Lucy’s sharp-edged observations are also very funny. All in all, this series is turning into one of the highlights of the year to date and I’m thrilled to discover that I have the other three audiobooks just waiting to be read. Lucky, lucky me!