The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud, was published in 2014 by Hyperion. It is the sequel to The Screaming Staircase.
In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn’t made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood’s investigations, which is creating a bit of tension back home at Portland Row. Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the exhumation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a doctor who, in Victorian times, purportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well—until George’s curiosity attracts a horrible phantom. That isn’t the only chaos that follows the phantom’s release. Inspector Barnes of DEPRAC informs Lockwood and Kipps that Bickerstaff’s coffin has been raided and a strange glass object has been stolen. He believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found. Meanwhile, Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in the ghost jar…
The Whispering Skull has great suspense and creepiness to it; it’s basically a really good ghost story. There’s some more development for the characters, which I liked; I liked that Lockwood & Co.’s relationship was tested and that they had to work out some things. It made them seem less two-dimensional.
I also really enjoyed the writing; there are several moments in the book where Stroud does situational humor through his writing, through his descriptions of things. Like when someone mentions the name of the rumored killer “Jack Carver” and a flock of crows bursts from the trees. There’s also a lot of humorous dialogue, and not all of it comes from George, the designated Wise Cracker. And the book as a whole is really entertaining.
However, I’m still less than impressed by the characters. None of them have really done anything to make them stand out very much. I don’t like the “tantalizing mystery” surrounding Lockwood, George doesn’t do much besides be the comic relief, and as a viewpoint character Lucy is really flat. She gets a little development with her interactions with the skull, but still. I don’t understand her character. Both she and George completely revolve around Lockwood and it’s annoying. What I hope will happen is that Lockwood & Co. gets a new team member (preferably female) in the next book, because right now they really need it. (Note from the future: They totally are! Yes! Thank you, Stroud!)
Four more little things bothered me: 1.) it was too unbelievable that the skull in the jar that George happened to pick up just happened to be connected to the case. 2.) The “villain” was really obvious due to Stroud’s almost over-description of him every time he appeared 3.) The ending was a cliffhanger and I hated it. 4.) I didn’t like how almost every character besides the Main Trio were described in unflattering terms.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Ghosts and ghouls, scary situations and imagery.
Genre: Supernatural, Mystery, Young Adult (maybe mature Middle Grade if they can handle scary)
“Can you describe them?”
“One, not so much,” the kid said. “Plump bloke, blond hair, scritty mustache. Young, wears black. Name of Duane Neddles.”
George made a skeptical noise that sounded like gas escaping from a rhino. “Duane Neddles? Oh, he sounds scary. Sure you’re not making this up?”
“And the other?” Lockwood called.
The kid hesitated. “He’s got a reputation. A killer. They say he bumped off a rival during a job last year. Maybe I shouldn’t…”
Lockwood stopped short. “It was a team of two last night that bashed your colleague,” he said. “Let’s say one was Neddles. Who was the other?”
The kid leaned close, spoke softly. “They call him Jack Carver.”
A group of crows rose squalling from the gravestones. Wings cracking, they circled against the sky and flew off over the trees.
The Whispering Skull was deliciously spooky and wonderfully entertaining—but that’s about all it was. I still think the characters are flat and generic, and Lucy particularly, being a first-person narrator, needs some work. There were a number of other small things in the book that bothered me, to the extent where I enjoyed the book, but was annoyed with it at the same time.
You can buy this here:The Whispering Skull