Thursday, December 29, 2016

What we're reading: Next in a horror series

I just finished The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud, which is the latest of four books in the Lockwood & Co. series. I hesitated to call this horror, because although the theme of these books is ghost-hunting, and some of the descriptions and actions of those entities are quite horrific, the series is pretty mild in terms of actual fright--it probably won't keep you up at night. Let's just say, Stephen King it's not! But it is well written, somewhat spooky, and occasionally humorous.

The basic scenario of the series is as follows: The books are set in an alternative London in which "the Problem" has necessarily become the focus of everyone's lives. For more than 50 years, there has been a positive epidemic of ghosts. They're not just anonymous bumps in the night, either--they're dangerous, and they're everywhere. The responsibility for ridding the country of these apparitions has fallen to the children and teenagers, because adults are unable to see them. So teams of psychic investigators who aren't old enough to vote or drive a car are madly dashing about by night, armed and dangerous, while the grown-ups cower indoors as soon as dusk falls.

The books follow a particular agent, Lucy Carlyle, as she arrives in London, joins up with the rather notorious Lockwood Agency (which consists of Anthony Lockwood, George Cubbins, and now Lucy) and finds herself beset by peril. In book #3, Holly Munro (formerly a minor agent at a major agency) joins the team, and at the end of that book, Lucy decides to depart Lockwood & Co. (with a whispering skull in tow) to go freelance. She assures everyone that this desertion is not related to the advent of Holly (who is perky, pretty, and omnipresent).

This book picks up shortly after the end of the last, with Lucy attempting to distinguish herself while putting up with the annoying habits of the various clients (other psychic investigative agencies) with whom she must work as a contractor. Then Anthony Lockwood contacts her about working with her old agency on a particularly challenging assignment he has accepted from Penelope Fittes of the founding Fittes Agency, and Lucy is thrown back into confusion about her status and options. But some really big events take everyone's mind off of everything except survival as the Rotwell agency goes rogue...

I enjoyed the usual bits in this book--the descriptions of the specters, the fights, the ingenuity--but as the series continues, I would also enjoy a little more focus on and information about each individual member of the team. I thought we would get that this time, since at the beginning Lucy had gone out on her own; but apart from some descriptions of annoying clients, the skull's usual harpings, and her messy apartment, there wasn't much. 
Internal workings would be good. Insights into characters, explanations for behaviors, etc. would be good. We're still getting the glossy sheen of Lockwood, the deceptively bumbling efficiency of George, the perfection of's starting to be a liability to the series. I did like that Quill Kips, formerly cocky Fittes agent now mercifully ghost-blind, was added to the mix, but...again, he's pretty stereotypical.

The adventures in this one, however, are ground-breaking, so that part is good. And we're left with a major cliffhanger, a multitude of unanswered questions, and lots of ominous possibilities. The series goes onward! I will keep reading, but...I hope the author isn't blinded by the success of his formula and does some necessary deepening of the characters next time.

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