By Jonathan Stroud
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 978 0 857 53201 5
Jonathan Stroud's The Bartimaeus Trilogy is up there with the finest teenage novels of the past decade. News earlier this year that Stroud was working on something new set pulses racing and hopes high because of the high level of storytelling in Bartimaeus. Could he repeat the invention and quality?
It's definitely worth checking out Stroud's 5,000-year-old djinni - he's a superstar - but Stroud's talent and imagination are too great to be limited to magic and djinni. His latest heroes are Anthony Lockwood and Lucy Carlyle, ghost-hunters extraordinaire. Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase is set on the streets of London, a city with a big problem.
It's 50 years ago, and Britain has been overrun by ghosts intent on causing as much damage as possible. City authorities have to deal with this plague of unwelcome visitors from the Other Side. One of the biggest problems is that only psychically gifted teens are able to actually see these ghoulish beings and effectively dispatch them to whence they came.
Ghost-hunting companies employing teenagers have sprung up all over the country. Lucy has recently had to move to London because of a mission that went horribly wrong, and is looking for new work. She joins a small agency run by the mysterious Anthony Lockwood, and soon finds herself on a new and very treacherous case.
It may sound like an exhilarating way to make money, but dealing with ghosts is a dangerous business - just one touch can be fatal for a human.
The three teenage ghost hunters of Lockwood & Co are soon following a trail that leads them to Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England. But why has the mansion's infamous Screaming Staircase lured them here? And what secrets lie behind the door of the legendary Red Room?
Stroud has great fun with all the classic ingredients of a traditional ghost story, and adds quite a few of his own as well. It's a heady and creepy mix, with Stroud's talent for witty dialogue and clever character interplay as much in evidence as it was in the Bartimaeus books. The constant light humour acts as a nice balance to the creepy action, and Stroud sprinkles around quite a few teasers, that no doubt will be dealt with in later books.
At 450 pages, this is a hefty read, but every page shows evidence of a quality storyteller at work. This is one of the best books of 2013.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com