The Screaming Staircase is, hands down, one of the best spooky, suspenseful ghost stories I have ever read. The fact that it is so brilliantly and appropriately written for young readers makes it just that much more extraordinary. Written by Jonathan Stroud, of The Bartimaeus Trilogy fame, The Screaming Staircase is set in London, fifty years after England has acknowledged there is a “problem” with ghosts/spectres/spirits manifesting themselves among the living during the evening hours. Psychic Investigation companies have sprung up to deal with the consequences of these “visitors.”
The story opens with Lucy Carlyle and (Anthony) Lockwood, psychic investigators, beginning an investigation for a new client. The opening chapters as they proceed with this task move quickly. They are drenched in the suspenseful action of the best classic Hitchcock films where the reader doesn’t even realize she is holding her breath until she is forced to let out some air. (This is what happened to me.) The haunting Lucy & Lockwood originally thought they would be facing turns into something much more sinister and at the end of Part I the reader is reeling. Part I is followed by a flashback to Lucy’s life up to that point, then catches back up to the present action and continues twisting forward. Every time I thought the storyline was heading toward a conclusion, it took a new turn.
I will say here that I am NOT the kind of reader who actively tries to figure out mysteries as I read–although ideas occur to me during the course of the journey. I prefer to follow the path the author has created and experience events as they come. The Screaming Staircase kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the story. Although the conclusion is absolutely satisfactory in terms of this plot the ending of the book is frighteningly tantalizing, making readers anxious for the second installment.
Stroud’s genius is in having children be the psychic operatives in the current crisis. Only children are sensitive enough to be able to identify the otherworldly visitors. All the other Psychic Agencies employ children as operatives, but maintain adults as supervisors. Lockwood & Co (comprised of Lucy, Lockwood & the quirky George) stands alone as an Agency without adult “supervision.” This holds great appeal to young readers in its sense of empowerment and respect for their intelligence and abilities.
The Screaming Staircase is an extraordinary melding of the best detective, suspense and ghost stories there are and yet remains wholly original. I HIGHLY recommend this book to all who already love this genre AND to those who are simply intrigued by the promise of an unbelievably talented author with an exquisitely exciting tale to tale!