The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud (Lockwood & Co #3)

Fantasy Book Review Book of the Month, February 2016

The Hollow Boy is the third – and I sincerely hope not the last – novel in Jonathan Stroud’s superior urban fantasy series for young adults. The first two novels in Lockwood & Co - The Screaming Staircase and The Whispering Skull - were very good but The Hollow Boy, for reasons I will get to in just a moment, lifts the series to a wonderful new high.

But first the synopsis:

Lockwood & Co. might be the smallest (some might say shambolic) Psychic Detection Agency in London. But its three agents - Lockwood, Lucy and George - are exceptional Talents. And they get results. When an outbreak of ghostly phenomena grows to terrifying levels in Chelsea, Scotland Yard is left baffled. Even more baffling is that Lockwood & Co appear to have been excluded from the huge team of Agents investigating the Chelsea Outbreak. Surely this is the perfect chance for them to show once and for all that they're actually the best in town? Well, that's if they can put aside their personal differences for long enough to march into action with their rapiers, salt and iron...

There is nothing I love more than being part of an on-going series, especially when it is this good. I can’t tell you how delighted I was to discover that Lockwood & Co was not the trilogy I had expected but is instead an open-ended series that should continue to thrill readers for many years to come.

If you have previously read any Jonathan Stroud book reviews on this site you will be left in no doubt as to just how high we regard his work, be it Lockwood & Co, the terrific Heroes of the Valley or the work for which he is arguably still best know, The Bartimaeus Trilogy, which is and will remain one of my all-time favourite trilogies.

I always feel a healthy mix of anticipation and soon to be sated expectation when beginning a Stroud book. By now Lockwood, Lucy and George are old friends and I look forward to reading about their adventures. I look forward to reading about them eating biscuits and drinking tea, I enjoy the banter between Lucy, George and the enigmatic Lockwood - of whom I hope to discover more regarding his family secrets and discover exactly what happened to him, his sister and his parents so long ago.

There is something of the Sherlock Holmes about these books, from the atmospheric, pea soupy London setting to the case by case structure of the series. Even in Lockwood and Lucy there is a touch of the diffidence and stoicism of Holmes and Watson respectively. This only occurred to me as I sat down to read this third novel and being a long-time Holmes fan, it was yet another positive.

The humour found within is perfect, it is used sparingly and strikes with rapier like accuracy. The preceding book introduced a new ‘character’, the titular Whispering Skull, and as much as I like Lockwood, George and Lucy, the skull is now far and away my favourite, being by turns acerbic, witty, mischievous, wicked and generally wonderful. I think many other readers will find the skull a real highlight of the novel.

And Stroud also makes further clever changes to keep the group dynamic fresh. It is not just the skull which has become as much a part of the house and team as the three investigators - there is now a fourth member of the team and this leads to a lot of friction. But as this is such an important part of the book I will say no more.         

My advice to you, dear reader, is to read the Lockwood & Co books then read everything else Stroud has written. He’s the bee’s knees in my opinion and his work is enormous fun to read.

10/10 A superior urban fantasy series improving with each instalment

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