The Whispering Skull: Lockwood & Co. #2

The Screaming Staircase was one of my very favorite reads of 2013.  Jonathan Stroud crafted an incredible world where ghosts walk at night, and they are very dangerous indeed.  To be touched by a ghost is a death sentence.  Thankfully, we have agencies of ghost fighters ("Who ya gonna call?") to save us.

Only those ghost hunters are kids.  You see, only tweens and teens can really perceive ghosts well.  They have Talents, whether it be for seeing or hearing ghosts.  The future of the world is literally in the hands of teenagers (which I love!  Teens don't get enough credit.  Says the teen librarian.), and in their hands they've got salt, rapiers, and perhaps a bacon sandwich.

Book two in the series, The Whispering Skull, picks up rather directly after the first book, so do read that first, otherwise you'll be lost.  Lockwood and his employees Lucy (the narrator) and George bungle a case and are shown up by their rivals, the well-funded and exceptionally well-dressed Fittes Agency.  Words are exchanged.  A challenge is made.  Rivalries are cemented.  This ... is Monday Night Football!  Wait!  No!  Sorry!

To be honest, I felt that the Fittes/Lockwood rivalry was the weakest part of the book, and dragged it down when it should have been snapping along at a right quick pace.  It's really not crucial to the story.

George, the agency's researcher, has become increasingly interested in the fiendish skull in a jar that they've got kicking around the house (as you do).  One day, it speaks to Lucy, which is something that ghosts rarely ever do.  It's a devious, cunning thing, sowing discord and planting seeds of doubt.  However, it also turns out to be intimately connected with Lockwood & Co's next case, which involves a very nasty man, his deluded followers, and his disastrous creation: a bone mirror.  "Well, that doesn't sound so bad!" you might say.  Indeed.  A mirror made out of the bones of several tormented ghosts that kills you when you look into it, and exerts influence on your mind if you're even near it?  Naw, that's not dangerous at all!

At the grave site, George is briefly exposed to the mirror, as is another researcher.  George shows mild symptoms of malaise, but the corruption runs much deeper than that.  That was the other bit that I didn't like as much as the first book--this one is much easier to figure out.  I wanted to shake Lucy and Lockwood many times and yell, "Look!  Here!  Duh!" or some such thing.

What really shines is Stroud's ability with language.  Lucy is a brilliant and hilarious narrator, and I'm beginning to suspect that if you are born in the UK, you're given something at birth that makes you excessively witty and adroit with words.  George describes his former supervisor as having a "face like a sock soaked in vinegar."  Here are some more of my favorite quotes:

"We sat.  Kipps poured us coffee.  Is it possible to pour coffee unctuously?  If so, Kipps managed it well."

"Barnes' moustache resembled some kind of hairily exotic caterpillar, probably from the forests of Sumatra, and certainly previously unknown to science.  It had a life of its own, rippling and ruffling in accordance with its owner's mood."

"George made a skeptical noise that sounded like gas escaping from a rhino."  I love fart jokes.  I'm also a six-year-old boy.

"She was Mrs. Adelaide Winkman; she and her husband had owned the place for twenty years, since their predecessor had been accidentally crushed beneath a piece of Indian erotic statuary."

"My first impression was of a big man made short by some quirk of genetics, or by an elevator falling on him, or both."

I am making note of these for further insult-hurling on my part.  They're delicious.

Another fantastic entry in the Lockwood & Co. series.  I cannot wait for the next one!


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