Review: The Whispering Skull

Posted: April 19, 2016 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Johnathan Stroud, Fantasy, Middle Grade

The kids at Lockwood & Co. are doing just fine. The events in THE SCREAMING STAIRCASE gave them enough notoriety to keep them busy with work and enough money for a comfortable lifestyle–even if it hasn’t made them rich. But being the smallest ghost hunting agency in London makes them a target for agencies like Tittles where Kipps’ team takes the prize from under Lockwood’s nose in the opening chapter. A frustrated Lockwood team grows bold and bets Kipps’ team that if they end up on the same case again, the team who loses the bet must take out a newspaper ad declaring the other the best ghost hunting team in town.

It doesn’t take long before the Lockwood team is put to the test, and it turns out to be their most dangerous case yet.

I loved the first book of the series; if you read my review (EBR Review) there was no end of my gushing. It’s not uncommon for second books in a series to be a disappointment when compared to the first. It is not the case here, as THE WHISPERING SKULL is every bit as good as its predecessor. Hurrah!

Lockwood and his team are commissioned for routine haunted coffin disposal where a company has been preemptively clearing out cemeteries. The team finishes the job, but things go wrong as soon as they leave. DERPAC’s (Department of Psychical Research and Control) agent Barnes calls on Lockwood and Kipps’ teams to work together to solve the theft of a specific item from the coffin: a mirror made of bones. What is it about that mirror that caused the death of one of its thieves? And why does everyone seem to want it so badly?

Told again from our plucky heroine Lucy’s PoV, we get to enjoy the delightfully descriptive prose and witty observations from the only girl on the Lockwood team. Lockwood started book one as the dashing leader of the team, but after a year of working with him, the shine has worn off a little as Lucy has discovered how closed-off Lockwood is. WHISPERING is where we get to know more about George and the kind of person he is–for better or worse–since he tends to make poor decisions (but he’s just a kid, really). The secondary characters are quirky and memorable, even the creepy whispering skull who is able to communicate with the highly sensitive Lucy.

It doesn't take long before the Lockwood team is put to the test, and the one in THE WHISPERING SKULL turns out to be their most dangerous case yet.

Stroud writes a great setting, not so much the city as it is being an era of fear. He includes details of ghost hunting, history of ghost hunting, and how a society deals with the dangers of the visitors. This time around we’re introduced to “psychically charged” items and the “relic-men” who hunt and sell them despite the risks. We also learn some about the politics of the different ghost hunting companies and the status associated with the business.

Hilarious, funny bits keep the dismal themes from overrunning the tone of the story (seriously, I laughed out loud and got funny looks from my husband as I read these books), especially considering the gruesome origins and purposes of the bone mirror. As with SCREAMING the pace moves at a consistent pace, leading us through the information bit by bit to the exciting conclusion. I can’t wait to read THE HOLLOW BOY.

  • Recommended Age: 10+ (although may be too intense for more tender-hearted children)
  • Language: None
  • Violence: Some fighting but it's usually against ghosts; death is a frequent theme
  • Sex: None

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