Happy Halloween! I needle-felted radish earrings for myself last night, so I can be Luna Lovegood instead of a random Ravenclaw student. And for more Halloween book geekery, I did my very best to carve the banner of Gondor into my pumpkin, at my son’s suggestion – a bare, uprooted tree with seven stars around it.
Whispering Skull. Lockwood & Co. Book 2 by Jonathan Stroud. Disney-Hyperion, 2014.
Back to a world much like our own present day, except that dangerous ghosts are common and only teens are able to fight them off. It’s been seven months since the events of The Screaming Staircase. Even though Lockwood & Co. got a lot of good press for their handling of that case, which has led to some jobs, they’re still on shaky financial grounds. The larger ghost-fighting agencies, those with uniforms and led by adults, still look down on them. The skull in a jar that talked to Lucy in the last book hasn’t talked again, though it makes faces at her from time to time, and George has been doing his utmost to make it uncomfortable enough to talk. They’ve just finished a job where they were overwhelmed by a number of ghosts when they were expecting only one and – most horribly – were rescued by a uniformed team from the rival Fittes agency.
The very morning after this disaster, a pair of men comes to ask them to help with some cemetery excavation work. A potentially harmful grave site has been discovered, and agents are needed on hand to take care of the dangerous items right away. What they find is an iron coffin, cracked open so that it’s no longer containing the malignant spirit of the mummified corpse inside. Edmund Bickerstaff was a Victorian doctor who did experiments trying to communicate with the dead, and Lucy can hear his spirit telling people to follow him. There’s also a shiny object giving off more strong evil vibes. Items identified and removed to a safe place on site until officials can take them to be burned, the team is sent home – only to be called back the next morning with news that the shiny object, a mirror, has been stolen. Now it’s Lockwood & Co. against the Fittes team, vying to see who can solve the case first, with the loser agreeing to publish an advertisement in the paper saying that the other team is better. The search will uncover dark history as well as taking our heroes to the seedier side of London, where dangerous artifacts are sold at high prices on the black market. Then the skull starts talking to Lucy again – and it seems to know more than it should about their current case.
Thanks are owed to the Cybils for making me read these books – The Screaming Staircase won last year’s middle grade speculative fiction award, and this one has been nominated in the same category. I wouldn’t normally seek out ghost stories, particularly stories of vengeful ectoplasm-flinging ghosts, but these books are very fun in spite of that. Though they are definitely too scary for sensitive readers (I admit, that includes myself at bedtime), these books hit that just-right combination of strong main characters and colorful supporting cast, exciting plot, good world-building, and snappy writing. In this book, we learn more about George’s history and interests in particular, making him a more sympathetic character than he was in the first book, and the world is fleshed out more as well, with a visit inside the famous but top-secret library of the Fittes agency. While this story stands just fine on its own, you’ll want to read the first book if you haven’t already, and the book closes with a lead for the next book. I’ll be waiting for it.
Hopefully I can get my son to read the first one by next Halloween, so he’ll know why he should want to dress up as Anthony Lockwood.
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