Hallowe’en is nearly on our doorsteps and, as usual, I’m enjoying this spooky time of year. With longer evenings, fog and the abundance of brightly coloured squashes (OK, pumpkins but one year we used a bizarrely shaped monster courgette) what better way to raise a few chills and thrills than read one – or all – of Jonathan Stroud’s brilliant Lockwood & Co novels?
For over half a century, the UK has been in the grip of an epidemic of ghosts. Adults cannot see, hear or sense them so children and teens are recruited to do all the dirty work. Visitors from the afterlife can bring death to the living (often through the much-dreaded ‘ghost touch’) so the young must arm themselves with the best tools around (magnesium flares, iron filings, chains and salt bombs) to not only protect themselves but also destroy the ghouls that are bent on murdering the living. Lucy Carlyle is one such psychic investigator. At the beginning of the series, she has just moved to London and is looking for an agency to join. As luck would have it, Anthony Lockwood is also looking for some help in dealing with the dead and Lucy joins his agency – the only one to be run by children (instead of adults) in the country.
Each novel in the series focuses on a particular case that the team (consisting of Anthony, Lucy and George in the first two books, and joined by Holly in the third and fourth) must solve in order to not only maintain their reputation but also to save their lives. Many of the ghosts they deal with have pretty alarming pasts too – I wouldn’t want to come across a living or dead murderous cannibal. Luckily Lucy also gains a sidekick in the form of a wisecracking skull, who usually helps the team just in the nick of time (after insulting them all first though).
Of course none of their success would be possible without copious amounts of tea and biscuits, which makes this a very English sort of ghost-busting experience!
One of the reasons why I love this series is the way in which Stroud combines genuinely frightening horror (and I’m 43!) with a quick, dry humour. The characters are all fully realised (an element often overlooked in horror or ghost stories in favour of creating chills and thrills) and feel like friends by the end of the first book – The Screaming Staircase. Anthony Lockwood is dashing, a real swashbuckler with a sword who I can imagine female readers swooning over. I rather think Lucy feels this way about him too but she’s always busy being sensible and talented and only gets a bit hot and bothered when a new agent steps onto the scene. She not only faces peril with bravery and determination, she is also trying to develop a very special talent that could set her aside from all other psychic investigators – a fantastic role model for a girl if ever there was one. And food-loving George Cubbins provides the intellectual approach, researching hauntings so the team can go in as prepared and forewarned as possible.
If you love ghosts, comedy, adventure and some pretty hefty horror, I can’t urge you enough to give this series a go. Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co books are a perfect partner now that the evenings are really drawing in, and the pumpkins are a-lighting. Dare you not read them?
And, if I may be cheeky…
I’ve written my own horror story for a competition run alongside the Touring Consortium Theatre Company’s current A Tale of Two Cities tour. I was so amazed and delighted and excited last week to have been shortlisted and my story performed by the wonderful Rebecca Birch: http://theatrecloud.com/get-involved/creative-projects/tell-a-tale-the-shortlist/la-tricoteuse/2480
I’d love it if you could take a look at her creepy rendition and, if you like it, please do vote for it!
What is the scariest book you have read?