Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Lucy Carlyle and Anthony Lockwood have been offered a chance to solve the mystery of The Screaming Staircase. If they complete their task, it will get their ghost detecting agency out of serious debt. If they fail, they will lose everything ... including their lives.
The Problem started in England decades ago, when the spirits of the deceased returned to haunt both cities and countrysides. Their touch can be deadly; their motives are unknown. Only children and adolescents have the ability to sense the presence of these ghosts and hopefully get rid of them.
A whole new industry of ghost exterminators has sprung up in London, and Lucy has the rare ability to actually hear the vague whisperings of these spectral beings. It is a shame that her last employer fired her over a deadly incident that was not her fault.
With nowhere to go, Miss Carlyle finds herself turning to one of the only agencies operated exclusively by minors. Anthony Lockwood and George Cubbins have been running Lockwood & Co. for a few months, but they are already on their second assistant. The fact that their last employee met an untimely end does not give Lucy much confidence, but Lockwood's effortless charm and sheer enthusiasm for ghost hunting reassures her.
Soon the pair are out on ghost detecting jobs while fiendishly sarcastic George handles the research bits. When they uncover an unsolved murder through the ghost of a very angry victim, their success and reputation quickly burn up along with the house where the body is discovered. Their offer to solve the mystery of the Screaming Staircase might set things right, or it may turn them into the next ghosts needing to be eradicated.
I appreciated the inclusion of mundane aspects to the ghost hunting job. Making sure your iron chains are well-oiled. Iron repels ghosts and is an absolute must. These sorts of details put me in mind of my favorite fantasy novel from last year. The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde features a magical agency in which wizards use their magic on plumbing, getting cats down from trees, and for delivering pizzas.
You could also easily toss off simple comparisons to Ghostbusters or Scooby Doo, but to do so would ignore the book's dry humor and truly chilling moments. When read alone at night, The Screaming Staircase has the same power to frighten as the many restless spirits that haunt its pages!