Set in present day London, The Screaming Staircase is narrated by Lucy Carlyle, who is a ghost hunter. For almost fifty years the country has been under the weight of the Problem – ghosts and spectres who are unable to rest, and who terrorise the living. Only the young are able to see the ghosts, and anyone with Talent for seeing, hearing or feeling their presence is in high demand. Luckily there are many children who do have Talent, as ghost hunting is a dangerous and dirty profession where the possibility of dying lies just around every corner.
When all the children in the agency that Lucy works for in her home town are killed in a tragic incident, Lucy moves to London to start afresh. Enter Anthony Lockwood, of Lockwood & Co., and his deputy, George Cubbins. Lucy meets these two young men when answering an ad, and so joins the fledging agency. Unlike the situation at her previous agency, Lockwood & Co. has no adult supervisor – and Lucy likes it that way, as her previous supervisor is partly to blame for the deaths of her fellow ghost hunters through his lack of attention to detail, and losing his nerve.
Beware. This is not a book for the squeamish. We’re talking blood, we’re talking slime, we’re talking fear.
While this story is a fantastic idea, I found that the writing was uneven, and there were many times when I was jolted out of the story by inconsistencies or small moments that just didn’t gel. The setup is far too long, and it feels like Stroud couldn’t quite decide whether to set the story in Victorian England or the present day. Having Lucy as the protagonist means that we are kept in the dark as long as her, but I felt that her ‘girl’ voice was not quite right either.
I’ve changed the score for this book from 4 to 3 and back again to 4. Perhaps my reading of this book suffers from having read Catherine Jinks’ wonderful City of Orphans series recently. The stories are quite similar, and, for mine, Jinks’ is the superior work.