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The Screaming Staircase

By Jonathan Stroud

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Book review written by Portia Bennie (Year 10 2020)

For more than fifty years, the country has been terrorized by apparitions in the night. Along with this are children with fantastical abilities to locate and neutralize them, trained to be agents apart of businesses who rid people of their hauntings for a fee. Lucy Carlyle is one of these children. She comes to London to join an agency, and happens to get into the smallest, most ramshackle agency of them all, run by Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood and Co. get one last shot at proving their worth as an agency. Unfortunately, this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in the country and making it out alive.

“I wasn't pretty, but as my mother once said, prettiness wasn't my profession.” – Lucy Carlyle

The key feature of the text is the mystery presented. You take on your own role in investigating along with the characters to see if you figure it out before they can. The mystery can be figured out long before the story announces the answer. This keeps you enraptured and invested as you analyse the evidence as it's presented and connect the dots in your own head. It's more than just being a passenger to what’s happening. You feel like you’re involved. 

“So stop worrying about the past. The past is for ghosts. We’ve all done things that we regret. It’s what’s ahead of us that counts.” – Anthony Lockwood

Don’t get the idea that this story is constant gritty investigative horror and action. This story is so much more. It mixes the interpersonal relationships, rivalries, and petty silliness artfully with the terror and deep analysis while doing inspections. The characters all have interesting dynamics between them and their own distinct personalities which come out in how they approach their job in the agency. While the story is very grounded in rules and realism even in the main idea, they do reference the strangeness of the reality they inhabit, and they are never inclined to take everything seriously all the time.

“Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co. I intend to say little, in part to protect the identity of the victims, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.” – Lucy Carlyle

I think anyone into mysteries and the paranormal would benefit, not only for the key feature of the text, but for the rich and well thought out history of the world the story is based on. Age especially doesn’t matter, though the older you are the better you may be able to appreciate it. The rules and classifications regarding ghosts allow for many interesting situations, and the regulations an agency must hold themselves to represent engaging conflicts for the characters. The characters never stumble into things unprepared or knowing nothing, they research and react competently like the trained professionals they are meant to be. A character’s actions never annoyed or confused me, everything that happened made sense in the context of the story and what was happening. You can really get invested in the world and know that anything that doesn’t make sense will be explained. It’s an amazing place to escape from the mundanity life can sometimes become.

“When you go out hunting wicked spirits, it's the simple things that matter most. The silvered point of your rapier flashing in the dark; the iron filings scattered on the floor; the sealed canisters of best Greek Fire, ready as a last resort... But tea bags, brown and fresh and plenty of them, and made (for preference) by Pitkin Brothers of Bond Street, are perhaps the simplest and best of all. OK, they may not save your life like a sword-tip or an iron circle can, and they haven't the protective power of a sudden wall of fire. But they do provide something just as vital. They help keep you sane.” 

Stroud, J. (2013). The Screaming Staircase.

Book review written by Portia Bennie (Year 10 2020)