The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud (Lockwood & Co #2)

Fantasy Book Review Book of the Month, October 2015

The Whispering Skull is the second book in Jonathan Stroud's masterful Lockwood & Co series for young adult readers and ages up. This atmospheric and amusing second installment charts the continuing trials and misadventures of London's smallest psychic detective agency and as the first book in the series, The Screaming Staircase, was our Book of the Month for July 2013 and I’m delighted to say that The Whispering Skull, which is every bit as good, is a deserving Book of Month for October 2015.

Life is never exactly peaceful for Lockwood & Co. Lucy and George are trying to solve the mystery of the talking skull trapped in their ghost jar, while Lockwood is desperate for an exciting new case.

Things seem to be looking up when the team is called to Kensal Green Cemetery to investigate the grave of a sinister Victorian doctor. Strange apparitions have been seen there, and the site must be made safe. As usual, Lockwood is confident; as usual, everything goes wrong – a terrible phantom is unleashed, and a dangerous object is stolen from the coffin.

Lockwood & Co must recover the relic before its power is unleashed, but it’s a race against time. Their obnoxious rivals from the Fittes agency are also on the hunt. And if that’s not bad enough, the skull in the ghost-jar is stirring again...

One of the main – and many - strengths of this series is the fantastic chemistry and camaraderie between the three main characters (Lucy, the narrator of the story, Lockwood (the enigmatic leader and head of Lockwood & Co.) and George (the bespectacled intelligence researcher, who is my personal favourite). Stroud has good form in this area, the relationship in the Bartimaeus trilogy between Nathaniel, Bartimaeus, and Kitty was wonderfully realised: touching, believable and it made for excellent reading. The trio in this new trilogy is similarly wonderful; they are very, very different yet complement each other perfectly. And being English, I particularly like their penchant for tea and biscuits!

Jonathan Stroud writes skillfully, creating a gripping narrative that moves seamlessly from the comfort of home to the thrills and chills of graveyards and haunted houses. I find that the best authors really show their expertise in the tricky second book of a trilogy – a book which in lesser hands only seems to serve as a bridge to the third and concluding installment, but The Whispering Skull can both stand as an enjoyable stand-alone book and also a one that further fleshes out its characters and the world in which it is set.

Simply put, if you loved the first book you will love this one every bit as much. Highly recommended and the best news of all is that book three, The Hollow Boy, is sitting on my desk next to me, begging to be read!

9/10 If you loved the first book you will love this one every bit as much.

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