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Everybody loves a ghost story, right? When told around campfires, with the flames lighting faces and the darkness rising up behind, there’s something about the creepy frisson of these tales that draws us in. I’ll readily admit that I’m a wimp where scary stories are concerned, but I recently finished a series that hit just the right mixture of shivers and narrow escapes balanced with humor and adventure.
I had previously read some of Jonathan Stroud’s work with his excellent “Bartimaeus” trilogy, but he’s really hit it out of the park with this latest series. The “Lockwood and Co.” quintet is set in an alternate version of modern London that is in the grip of “the Problem;” about 40 years ago, seemingly for no reason, ghosts began to walk the streets.
There are Lurkers in alleys, Grey Wisps in dark rooms, Pale Ladies wringing their hands in graveyards. They bring with them terror and the risk of death by ghost-touch, and the only way to end these hauntings is by finding and destroying the tangible Source, the relic of their life or death that ties them to this world.
Fighting these ghosts and finding these sources is hard, dangerous, highly skilled work, performed by specialized ghost-hunting agencies that are staffed by… children? Yes, children: the ability to see ghosts fades as you reach adulthood, and how can you fight what you can’t see?
Our heroes are the members of London’s smallest ghost-hunting agency; three members strong, it consists of redoubtable Lucy, brainy George and the enigmatic Lockwood. Over the course of five books, they deal with many terrifying specters and dangerous situations as they work their way ever closer to the heart of the Problem.
Though filed in the children’s section, this is a series that, like Harry Potter, works at many reading levels. The ghosts are scary enough to make this better for older kids, but it could be enjoyed by readers from 10 to 90. Each book is a gripping mix of shivers and adventure, liberally peppered with humor and strong characters that develop satisfyingly over the course of the series.
Stroud’s prose is especially worthy of note, with atmospheric descriptions and dry turns of phrase that elevate the story. Whether you’re looking for a series to share with your family or just want a shivery read of your very own, “Lockwood and Co.” will fit the bill. The first book in the series is “The Screaming Staircase,” and all five are available at the library.
The “Lockwood and Co.” series by Jonathan Stroud is published by Disney Hyperion.
Genevieve Baillie is the extension services librarian at the Wilson County Public Library.