I’ve read this book twice now: once by myself and once with my wife. This isn’t a scary book, but when you read it out loud late at night it can get a little spooky. To be clear, I’m one of those guys who can’t watch scary movies without watching a Disney movie afterwards in order to sleep. So you can take my cautionary advice with a grain of salt. That being said, this book is a great example of paranormal young adult literature that leans away from the romantic element. I believe this allows the story to be more plot driven. Some people don’t like this and that’s fine; I believe that it has its place in the literary world. That and I have found that many mystery novels, which this is, tend toward having more plot driven stories than other genres.
London and the surrounding areas of the British Isles have a problem: for the past 50 years ghosts and other Visitors have been a plague on the nation. Agencies were created and studies were performed to best deal with the problem and protect the citizens from the deadly presence of the ghosts. For Lockwood & Co, a small organization that deals with the visitor problem, things have looked better. After botching a job, which resulted in the partial destruction of the client’s home, they are in a great deal of debt with no way of making enough money to pay it all back. But when a mysterious locket becomes the only clue in a murder that took place 50 years ago, Lockwood and the gang find themselves a hot interest for several parties. Some of which would like the locket back and are willing to use whatever means necessary to do it. So when a wealthy client comes with a job, Lockwood, George, and Lucy will have to set their murder mystery aside as they prepare to face one of the most dangerous assignments yet: The Red Room and Screaming Staircase of Comb Carry Hall.
To correct what I said earlier, I enjoy a plot driven story though I usually consider it a weakness on the author’s part. It is always more challenging to have a plot moved by the actions of the character. Using the plot for story progression runs the risk of incorporating deos ex-machina (god in the machine) into the book. For those of you unfamiliar with this term it is usually displayed as fate or divine accident. An example is how love (the divine accident) saves baby Harry Potter from Voldemort’s killing curse. All we have is the author telling us that is what saved him when theoretically it could have been a certain type of rock that was buried beneath him or a certain time of the day. It’s never explained and the author is telling us instead of showing us what happened. For all those who are rising up to write scathing comments on my blog, I do like the Harry Potter series and this is an observation of a literary technique in use and not judgment passed on the book. I still think J. K. Rowling wrote an amazing debut novel. But anyway, back to The Screaming Staircase.
One thing I did find to be slightly bothersome was the way in which Stroud would interrupt the action with a detailed description of every character. It was never more than a long paragraph, but there were a few times in which I felt it was too much all at once.
Though the plot leans more toward being plot driven there is also a great deal of character involvement, which I believe brings balance to the book. I do believe that an unfortunate side effect of it’s strong lean toward plot is that the characters are more static than they otherwise could have been. This took away slightly from the reader’s ability to relate with anyone in the book, but regardless of this I still found myself hooked from the beginning. After reading it twice I can honestly say I don’t know how Jonathan Stroud would have changed it to be primarily character driven without having to drastically change the nature of the main characters. And if you like highly witty dialogue, comical character flaws, and strong-minded individuals then you will like the members of Lockwood & Co.