Down In The Tube Station at Midnight…

So here’s a short horror story I wrote this afternoon that’s been rattling around in my brain for the last few weeks. I was pretty proud of it, so I thought I’d share!


The tiled walls of the tube station shifted and swirled uneasily as Alicia tried deep breaths to steady her equally swirling stomach. As per usual, the after work “couple of glasses of wine” had become a couple of bottles, and now here she was again, unsteady and nauseous in the stifling stagnant air of Holborn station. Minutes crawled past her, marching steadily towards midnight, and a sense of regret came with them.

She breathed heavily, ‘Future Alicia is going to be super pissed in the morning… Saturday morning a write-off.’ her words echoed off the curved, dirty white walls. She was alone. Fortunately, respite was approaching – or the promise of a seat at least. The pressure change and blowing hot rush of air that indicated the imminent arrival of a train washed over her like a dusty desert wind, accompanied by the steady crescendo roar from down the tunnel. Alicia gathered her bag from where she’d let it slump to the floor, and turned to meet the pulsing of red and white that slowed steadily to allow passengers on and off. As it came to a rest though, it was obvious that inside the train was as empty as the platform. The doors slide open, and she stepped inside, wobbling slightly, but thankful to be able to escape balancing against gravity for ten minutes. So long as she didn’t fall asleep, she was fine. Sitting down, she even started to feel a lot less drunk than she had, and she surveyed the empty tube carriage around her. The light was searingly bright, and intense white that knifed through her skull like lightning, and it felt cramped and uncomfortable, but other than that it was a haven for her throbbing feet. The rows of seats stretched back from her towards the next carriage, but not a single one was occupied, except for a dog-eared newspaper that sat next to her, an unpleasant musty odour coming off it.

‘Solo tube Selfie, methinks’, she concluded after her inspection, noticing her words slurring into each other slightly, like a slow-motion car pileup, ‘what’s the point of being shit on for being a millennial if I don’t get to at least document my debauchery, after all?’

She pulled out her phone, already latched automatically onto the Tube’s Wifi, and opened up the camera. She pulled a suitably ridiculous face, all exaggerated pout and crossed eyes, the empty train carriage seeming endless behind her. It reminded her of when she was little, and she used to open two doors on the bathroom cabinet at the same time, enjoying the strange infinity of the door mirrors reflecting each other back and forth into eternity. She shivered slightly, despite the stuffy warmth of the tube, and took the photo, immediately opening to share it on Twitter.

“Solo Dork Adventures on the Underground” she tapped out, sending the tweet away with a wry smile.

‘Self deprecation is my favourite,’ she muttered to no-one, pushing her headphones in and firing up some music to drown out the toothless roar of the tube as it pulled into the next station. No-one got on. She pulled her phone out of her pocket again, feeling restless, the tiredness of alcohol making her yearn for bed. Her photo had garnered a few likes, as well as a couple of comments of “creepy!” from her followers. Her friend Adrian had replied, “Wow, cool shot! How’d you set that up?” which was an odd question. She told him that she’d just got on the empty tube – that it must have been good luck to get the whole train to herself, before sinking back into her music. She let her eyes droop, shielding her from the harsh buzz of the florescent light, but was careful not to let them drop completely. Last thing she wanted was to fall asleep and end up in Sheffield. After a minute or two, Alicia felt the train slowing down for another station, but it was once again empty, filled with litter and echoes. She checked her phone again. Adrian had replied saying “Haha, very funny – true dedication to the joke” which was even stranger than his first comment. She flicked back up to her original tweet, and felt the blood in her run ice cold. She was sat in the photo on her screen, in the same seat she was sat in now, pulling the ridiculous face she’d pulled earlier. The rows of vomit brown seats stretched away behind her just like she remembered, but sat twenty places or so behind her was a little boy. His black hair hung greasy and dank into his cold, black eyes. He was staring right at her.

Alicia pulled her headphones out and shot to her feet, spinning, her heart hammering double time, to look down the train. It was completely empty. She could see over the seats from standing, and there was no-one hiding behind them.

She called out anyway, ‘Hello? Is someone there-’ she caught herself mid-sentence when she realised she was uttering the dying words from every horror film ever made. Shakily, she held her phone up and took another selfie, her skin clammy and pale, but the alcohol purged from her system by adrenalin and fear. When the picture flashed up on screen, the boy was closer. Only ten or so chairs away this time. His eyes looked back at her through the phone, horrifyingly deep pools of black that sang hunger and sadness. Alicia screamed, and checked behind her again. Nothing was there. The carriage suddenly felt unbearably claustrophobic, the weight of tonnes of rock and London city crushing down on her. The air had gone from a stagnant heat to crackling with malevolent energy. She raised her phone to her face again, terrified of what she’d see when she took another picture, but more terrified of not knowing where the thing that was stalking her even was. When she tapped the shutter button gently, the picture showed just half of her face, cut off by the edge of the camera. There was a pale, mottled grey hand grasping her shoulder in the picture, the fingernails cracked and peeling away. The second she saw the image, she felt the pressure of a tiny but unbelievably powerful grip on her shoulder, sending a spider web of cold pain and abject horror through her. Her legs buckled, but she didn’t quite fall, instead stumbling with a wordless moan of primal fear towards the door of the tube. The train was slowing for another stop – not hers, but there was no way in hell she was going to stay trapped underground with some invisible child-shaped abomination. The slowing wasn’t fast enough, the seconds stretching out impossibly to long minutes of cold terror. Alicia was certain she felt tiny hands grasping at her hair, and jerked this way and that as though spiders where crawling up her body.

Finally, the tube shuddered to a stop, the doors swung open, and Alicia flung herself onto the unmoving concrete of the station floor. As she sucked in lungfuls of dry air, she just caught the glimpse of the boy stood behind the glass of the door behind her. He looked at her with those painfully yearning black holes, his mouth opening impossibly wide in a scream that sounded like a dying cat’s yowling. A thick, inky black fluid spilled out of his mouth in heavy, dripping ropes, and in response to his otherworldly howl, thin arms ending in long, grasping fingers snaked their way out from the dark gap between the train and the platform edge. They snatched blindly at Alicia, the desperation and starving need to have her coming off them with an animal lust. One grabbed her ankle, the fragile looking fingers exerting an impossible pressure on her skin, ice and agony knifing into her bone. It was pulling her towards the dark space beneath the tube as the it began accelerating away from the station again, moving with a heavy certainty that promised a messy death if the hands had their way. Alicia summoned all the strength she had and kicked her free foot at the hand that held her, and connected with enough force to shock it into releasing her. Driven by a pure and thoughtless survival instinct, she ran lopsidedly from the station, her crushed ankle screaming with agony as her broken bones ground against each other beneath the skin. Finally, when she reached the cold, fresh and freeing air of the world above, she allowed herself to collapse into a sobbing wreck, the pain becoming to much for her to bare. She passed out, the echoing black void of the child’s eyes swallowing her consciousness.


So that’s it! Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment if you liked it!

D

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Lockwood & Co. – The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

The third instalment in Stroud’s creeping spectre splashed ghost series is one that I’ve been waiting on tenterhooks for ever since book two, The Whispering Skull, ended with such an explosive cliff-hanger. These books are everything I ever dreamed of reading when I was about nine or ten, and even in my late twenties I devour them eagerly in a few short sittings, staying up into the small hours to try and get as much read as my brain will allow.

I need book four RIGHT NOW.

I need book four RIGHT NOW.

The Hollow Boy picks up a little after the events of The Whispering Skull, and a huge area of Chelsea has been cut off from London, due to an unexplained and deadly outburst of ghosts – hundreds roaming the area, leaving many ghost-touched and leaving London’s biggest and best agencies baffled. There’s no obvious source, so all that can be done is teams of agents sweeping the cordoned off zone on a nightly basis, dealing with the overwhelming number of smaller apparitions. London’s smallest agency, Lockwood & Co., have not been requested however, deemed too small to be of any use, much to the annoyance of brightly talented young Anthony Lockwood and his two assistants Lucy Carlyle and George Cubbins. As they continue trying to deal with the void left in the rest of the city by the other agencies prioritising Chelsea, the strained relationships between the highly talented young agents begin to reach fraying point. Lockwood’s cold distance is becoming increasingly more frustrating for Lucy, who is still trying to work out her rapidly expanding skills with hearing ghosts and spirits. But Lucy doesn’t just hear ghosts and death echoes, she can talk and communicate with the dead, a skill that is entirely unique as far as she knows. Eventually the stresses and pressures of overworking cause shifts in the structure of the tightknit Lockwood & Co., driving the wedge of uncertainty further between Lucy and Lockwood. When they’re finally asked to come into the Chelsea outbreak to help, the team are no longer operating with their usual haphazard synergy, and there’s something lurking underneath Chelsea that feeds on fear and distrust…

I cannot recommend this series enough.

I cannot recommend this series enough.

I think it’s no small thing to say that this might be one of the best series to come out in the MG age bracket since a certain bespectacled boy discovered he was a wizard. That’s right – Lockwood & Co is a series I just compared to Harry Potter. Not just that, but Percy Jackson, Skulduggery Pleasant – Stroud really stands with the big names. Lockwood’s chilly Sherlock-esque unflappable nature, George’s grubby but brilliant mind and Lucy’s emotionally charged narration all work perfectly to create a warm, diverse cast of characters that I genuinely care about so very much. Each book in the series stands alone superbly as a chilling ghost story, as well as a historical mystery, against a brilliantly realised world of paranormal darkness and a Victorian sense of melancholy, and they’re continuing to build a deep sense of history and mythology in The Hollow Boy. I yearn to know more and more about this universe after each chapter, dreaming of rapiers and rawbones. It balances creepy atmosphere with quirky, wry humour and intelligent plots, and this third instalment contains some of the most haunting moments of the series yet (crawling on all fours… *shudders*)

If you’ve got a strong reader with a love of clever, twistingly sophisticated ghost stories rooted around three vibrant characters then I cannot recommend the Lockwood & Co. Stories enough – they really are one of the greats.

Thanks for Reading…

D

The Shadow Cabinet (Shades of London book 3) by Maureen Johnson

Hello! I’ve been reading Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series since book one, The Name of the Star hit UK shelves back in 2011. I was emotionally devastated by how she chose to end The Madness Underneath – book two in the series, and so I awaited the arrival of book 3 with bated breath. The story of American exchange student Rory and her ability to see the dead has been one of my favourite YA series for ages, and it’s one of the rare supernatural series in the Teen market to not include generic forbidden romance and other clichés. When The Shadow Cabinet finally arrived in my shop, it didn’t even hit the shelves, I bought it right away… Perks of the job, after all.

Bless Hot Key for keeping the jacket pattern going, even though this is their first published.

Bless Hot Key for keeping the jacket pattern going, even though this is their first published.

WARNING. This is the THIRD BOOK in the Shades of London series, and so my review will contain some spoilers for the first two books. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

The Shadow Cabinet picks up exactly where The Madness Underneath left off, with the supernatural police squad of Stephen, Callum and Boo shattered and lost. They may have rescued Rory from the clutches of the nefarious therapist turned occultist Jane, but at what cost? And they still have no idea what Jane’s end game is, or where Rory’s missing schoolmate Charlotte is. With their leader Stephen trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead, the squad have no direction and no leads. Under the instruction of their direct superior, the elusive and ever professional Thorpe, Rory and the squad decide the best course of action is the most immediate one – track down Charlotte and find out what Jane has in mind that she’s willing to drug and kidnap school students to achieve. As the team begin to unravel the trail left behind, they stumble upon a thirst for power and knowledge older than them, older than civilization itself, stretching back to the very beginning of humanity when the worlds of the living and the dead and the magic that weaves between them were better understood. They stumble upon the legend of Sid and Sadie and the murders they committed to try and live forever, only to be trapped in the in between of the worlds, and eventually they realise what Jane plans to do… And the dire consequences that it will have not just on London, but on the world. But it might also offer the only chance to save Stephen from his fate too. Sometimes the biggest victories require equally big losses.

Book one, the Ripper themed The Name of the Star.

Book one, the Ripper themed The Name of the Star.

Once again, Maureen has managed to perfectly blend a feeling of sticky, oppressive southern American gothic atmosphere with a chilling, ancient and dour English one, creating a unique feeling in the Shades of London universe that oozes with melancholy. At the centre of all this is the series main protagonist, Rory, who is back on perfect form with her mix of sarcastic humour and passionately emotionally driven behaviour. She’s a girl who thinks and acts with her heart, and it leads to some dark, but ultimately necessary places. One of the main things I love about these books is the way Rory relates to the strange, ghostly English world around her using anecdotes and flashbacks to her Louisiana childhood, which includes big, brash and eccentric family members that she recalls with a fondness that always makes me smile. All the old favourites from the first two books are back, much like the start of a new season of a TV show you look forward to so much. I think I’d have liked more from Callum and Boo, but I think their absence lends The Shadow Cabinet it’s broken and desperately lost feeling. The new editions to the cast are fantastic though, with the enthusiastic and staggeringly knowledgeable Freddie being a great breath of fresh air into the downbeat and dejected characters. Sid and Sadie shine through though, for me – they’re the epitome of Crowley inspired occultism, all dreamlike spirituality with an unspoken undercurrent of menace and a lethal streak that comes out with sudden unexpected bursts of violence.

Book two, the emotionally devastating The Madness Underneath.

Book two, the emotionally devastating The Madness Underneath.

I loved the way the plot opened straight up into the driven climactic chaos of book 2’s ending, before losing momentum and choosing to give way to an almost dreamlike shift in tone, completely derailing the reader and creating a great sense of unease despite with the unexpected path change towards the unknown. It allows the book to study the main characters of Rory and Stephen in a separate environment, where the focus is very much on them, before ripping them back into the urgency and harsh nature of reality, building up the tension and action once more for a brief climax – perhaps too brief? I wanted more, but then I always do. Maureen also begins to touch upon the more ancient mythology of the Shades series, moving towards Greek mythology and some esoteric, unknowable ancient evil that I always love, and I look forward to it being a bigger focus of the next book.

Speaking of the next book… When, erm… When could we expect it? I need it because reasons.

Thanks for Reading!

D

You can buy The Shadow Cabinet here.

You can follow Maureen on Twitter (if you dare) here.

Lockwood & Co: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Last year, I read the first Lockwood & Co book, and was pretty much swept away in a world of fog-bound streets, creeping miasmas and murderous ghosts. Crackling with intelligence, and shivering with cold dread, it was a book I would’ve been obsessed with at ten years old (and still was at twenty-six). I even posted to the Waterstones Blog when the paperback edition was our July Children’s Book of the Month, and worked my little cottons off recommending it to as many people as would listen to me. So, how does the difficult book two stand up to the rip-roaring debut? Pretty superbly, I’d say…

Another Creepsome Cover

Another Creepsome Cover

The Whispering Skull takes place several months after the events of The Screaming Staircase, and the success of the Combe Carey Hall incident has helped raise the profile of the smallest team paranormal investigators in the country – Lockwood & Co. They’re hardly drowning in work, but the increase in acclaim has helped put them firmly on the map. However, when the high profile case of the Wimbledon Wraiths is snatched from their grasp in an embarrassing failure, by Quill Kipps’ expertly trained and expensively armed team from the Fittes Agency (the largest Paranormal Investigation Agency in the country), Anthony Lockwood, Lucy Carlyle and George Cubbins are finally thoroughly sick of being shown up by less skilled agents with expensive toys to help them muscle in on the good jobs. When an unknown body is unearthed from an unmarked grave and a horrifically powerful and terrible artefact is stolen, Inspector Barnes sets both Lockwood & Co, and Kipps’ team on the case, to try and increase the odds of finding the object before it falls into nefarious hands – and the rivalry between the two teams finally has a solid way to be settled: The best team is the team that returns the artefact first, and the losing team has to place an advert in the paper admitting their superiority. The mystery is thicker than a Type-Two Spectre’s miasma, though, and the team are sucked into the dark, unholy works of the nefarious Dr. Bickerstaff, a scientist who experimented with the Otherside and tormented the dead even before The Problem swept the nation and ghosts began to plague the living. Bickerstaff was an evil, unrelenting man who created something so powerful and unspeakable that it was buried in an unmarked grave with him, but there is one person who remembers what Bickerstaff did – Someone who was there: The Skull that speaks only to Lucy, from the first book. The Whispering Skull…

My shiny, fragile bound manuscript!

My shiny, fragile bound manuscript!

Yay! I was immediately sucked straight back into the haunted realm of Stroud’s series, it was almost like I’d never been away. The book opens with our three protagonists already in the middle of an overwhelming investigation, and the plot stays at that level of pace throughout the rest of the book, constantly twisting and turning. It’s brilliant to see all our favourite characters back in action, and Lockwood and Lucy are on fine form as a Holmes and Watson style sleuthing team. It’s George who has the great character arc in book two, though – His slow obsession with the Bickerstaff history slowly drives him to distraction, and his friends are so busy searching for the missing artefact, that they don’t notice just how lost their friend is. He becomes distant and haunted, but eventually comes out on top as a truly courageous character, and it’s a slow burning change in him that we as readers are tapped into, even where his fellow agents aren’t. Kipps’ team also show new, less arrogant and more professional sides to themselves towards the second half of the book, making them feel less like the “Karate Kid” style rivals this time. And the introduction of Joplin works as a great parallel to George, but as an adult, demonstrating the same bookish obsessive nature that gets darker throughout the story.

The Paperback Jacket for book one.

The Paperback Jacket for book one.

As for the atmosphere – it’s back from The Screaming Staircase, but with more impact than ever before. The way Jonathan manages to create a creeping sense of dread is fantastic – there’s real nods to the classic ghost stories in his writing style (especially M.R. James), and the way he describes the unknowable horrors of Bickerstaff’s experiments really sent a chill up my spine. The history is steeped in a sinister, oppressive feeling that drips from the words, and the mystery is slow and dread filled as it builds throughout the story. Still, just like book one though, The Whispering Skull has great moments of action and genuine humour that snap through the darkness and keeps the characters relatable and fun to read about. I love the entire team at Lockwood & Co, and I always feel compelled to delve into their misadventures. They truly are an ensemble cast on the same footing as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and The Whispering Skull is proof that this series is gripping, fun, chilling and so much fun.

Now, Jonathan Stroud sir, WHERE IS BOOK THREE?! You can’t leave me on *that* ending!!

Thanks for Reading, and keep your rapiers to hand, Agents.

D

Say Her Name by James Dawson

I have a long standing passion for horror fiction, the macabre & the spine chilling, as I’ve mentioned before on my blog, probably dating back as far as a fantastic little hardback called Scare Yourself to Sleep. When I heard James Dawson was bringing the Bloody Mary story to YA Fiction, through one of the best publishers in the UK right now (Hot Key Books), I was very excited – I think I requested a proof before proofs where even available. Then when I heard that James had taken a great deal of inspiration from my favourite subgenre of Horror, Japanese originating “J-Horror”, I knew I absolutely had to read this book. Finally, a proof landed in my hands just recently, & I kept the lights on late into the night as I kept my eyes glued to the pages…

The Brilliantly Chilling Jacket for Say Her Name...

The Brilliantly Chilling Jacket for Say Her Name…

Roberta “Bobbie” Rowe attends the snobbish world of a private girl’s boarding school, Piper’s Hall. She’s hardly the most popular girl on campus, but she’s managed to expertly develop an air of invisibility that lets her drift by from day to day unnoticed, besides her closest friend & roommate Naya. As Halloween night rolls around, she somehow finds herself spending her evening with Grace, one of the most popular & influential girls in the school, as well as some of her cronies & two boys from the nearby village, smuggled in to Piper’s Hall. As the group tell Ghost Stories, one girl, Sadie, brings up the old Urban Legend of Bloody Mary… The girl who hanged herself after chronic bullying. If you say her name, after midnight, 5 times into a mirror, then she will come for you, from the spirit realm. Of course, the story then dissolves into who has the guts to go through with the dare, saying the name into the mirror. Sadie claims to have already tried it & nothing happened, so the group think it must be harmless fun, especially on Halloween. They make their way to one of the school’s bathrooms, but only 3 of them actually summon up the nerve to go through with it: Bobbie, Naya & one of the town boys, the irresistibly cute Caine. Of course, nothing happens – Thousands of teenagers play the same dare around the world, & none of them have vanished. But Piper’s Hall isn’t like anywhere else, & soon strange things start to happen, beginning with the disappearance of Sadie. Bobbie starts to see strange things reflected in mirrors that aren’t there, the image of a pale, bloodied girl, stalking her… Then the message “5 Days” appears in the fog on the bathroom mirror, & Bobbie, Naya & Caine realise they’re living on a deadline. Unless they can find out how to stop her, Mary will come for them all in 5 days time.

He looks so nice! How can he write such a terrifying book?!

He looks so nice! How can he write such a terrifying book?!

James Dawson is clearly well versed in the art of tension building, & has studied various horror stories along the way. He hits the right beats for upping the sense of building dread in the story, borrowing ideas & set pieces from Koji Suzuki’s The Ring & Dark Water (one of my all time favourite authors, by the way). However, his expertise as a YA/Teen author allows him to balance out the darkness of this Supernatural Thriller with some serious punchy wit & lightness, creating a very down to Earth story. The characters are well developed, & the interplay between Bobbie & Naya is fun, comfortable & realistic. Bobbie makes for a passionate, driven main character, & through her, we get to unravel a rich mystery with her sense of curiosity, as well as compassion. Her better nature drives her to believe that there is more to Mary’s story than it first seems, & through the dreams she has, we get to have a tragic back story of the murderous  spirit. The story has a love element built through it, but it’s sweet & not at all over the top, so it worked for me.

The writing style of James’ is punchy & has a real energy to it, full of wit & humour, as well as a rich, fun use of metaphor & similes to paint a vibrant picture of Piper’s Hall & the surroundings. He uses the classic horror hotspots in familiar places, but that only helps to really give Say Her Name a feeling of a genre classic, & some of the sections ramp up the tension so well that I found myself physically gripping the book at points, so invested in the unfolding drama that I wanted to climb into the book. As with any good thriller, the pace really picks up in the book’s final third & I found myself flying through the revelations at breakneck speed, leaving me desperate to unwrap another layer of the tantalisingly tragic & dark mystery that lurks beneath the surface of this horror novel.

A perfect chiller, reminiscent of the Point Horror books of old, James Dawson has fused his teaching experience with his love of the darker side of fiction to create a gripping, exciting read that will captivate teens, & introduce them to a whole new genre of writing.

Thanks for reading.

Sleep Tight. Mind Mary doesn’t BITE.

D

You can find James Dawson on Twitter HERE.

Say Her Name is out from Hot Key Books in June 2014.

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

One of my most anticipated books of the autumn publishing period, Lockwood & Co is a spooky ghost novel from the amazingly talented Jonathan Stroud, author of the Bartimaeus Sequence. As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, I love a good Horror novel, so I’ve been really looking forward to it… And it did NOT disappoint!

The UK Hardback Jacket

The UK Hardback Jacket

Ever since The Problem came to England, Ghosts & Spirits have been preying on the population, terrifying & even killing with their chilling ghost touch. Whilst adults cannot see or hear most Visitors, Children are able to use their innate psychic gifts to track them, & soon companies are set up across the country, specialising in ridding haunted sites of their undead inhabitants. London based Lockwood & Co are an upstart agency ran by the brilliantly talented young Anthony Lockwood, with his assistants George Cubbins & Lucy Carlyle. Unlike most agencies, Lockwood & Co operate without specialist adults to guide them, & this difference allows them the flexibility they need to become the best Ghost Eradication Agency in the country. However, after a poorly researched expedition goes awry, the group end up burning down a client’s house & owing a substantial amount of money in repairs. When the incredibly wealthy Mr. Fairfax offers Lockwood & Co the chance to pay off their debts & more, investigating the most haunted house in England, Combe Carey Hall, the company jump at it. But can Lockwood & Co survive the night in a house that has claimed hundreds of lives, including other agents? Will they get to the bottom of the mystery of the Hall’s Red Room & Screaming Staircase? And why does it seem almost too good to be true that Mr. Fairfax is offering to help them just when they need it most?

The US Jacket for book 1

The US Jacket for book 1

Lockwood & Co is told from the perspective of Lockwood’s assistant, Lucy Carlyle, a tenacious & passionate young girl with an intense talent for hearing spirits, as well as sensing their history through touch. She’s a brilliant mix of level-headedness & emotional depth, providing great insight into the group’s investigations, as well as the sadness & despair of the Visitors that they encounter. Lucy is a really easy to relate with character, & her caring & strength of resolve make for a great narrator to keep the reader engaged with the fates of both the main characters, & the spirits they investigate. Lockwood is a charming leader with an easy, eclectic genius, conjuring images of Sherlock Holmes or The Doctor, tall & elegant. He’s often quiet, contemplative & thoughtful, but his sudden outbursts of excitable inspiration make him an endearing, but distracted character. He’s far from perfect, but his childlike exuberance makes up for his flaws. Finally, George is a bumbling, sarcastic addition to the team, with a razor sharp tongue & an amazing talent for sifting through research on haunted locations, death records & drudging up hidden secrets.

Jonathan Stroud is a brilliantly creative writer, & his descriptive passages are haunting. The way he unveils Visitors, in a slow, ponderous way creates a terrifyingly uneasy edge of expectation. Passages literally pour with the dread of some hideous spirit lurking just out of shot, & this adds to the general feel of the universe the book inhabits: One of tension, unease & constant paranoia. As well as his descriptive prowess though, Stroud creates a compelling cold-case murder mystery, interweaving plots from various cases, across a 50 year gap. He expertly drops hints & twists into the plot to keep the reader guessing until the very end, & the resolution ties all the threads neatly, whilst leaving enough to make the promise of a sequel very appealing. As well as drama, mystery & spine-chilling horror though, Lockwood & Co is also deeply fascinating, with staccato bursts of humour, as well as a complex history & universe to explore. All this, tied together with three interesting, notably different but equally engaging characters means The Screaming Staircase is bound to be a big hit, & Lockwood & Co is going to be a series to watch out for.

Book 2, The Whispering Skull, should be due out next year.

Thanks for reading!

D

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

Hello all! I’m writing this review whilst sat on a balcony in my parent’s apartment in Dubai, so hopefully I won’t pass out from heat exhaustion.

So, The Madness Underneath is the second book in Maureen Johnson’s The Shades of London series, which kicked off with the World Book Day title The Name of the Star, & takes place some months afterwards. Spoilers for the first book will be beyond this point! You can read my review for it HERE.

The Madness Underneath, UK Jacket.

The Madness Underneath, UK Jacket.

We meet up with Rory, our American leading lady, after she has recovered from her brutal attack from the Ripper. However, she’s still undergoing therapy to cope with the events of the stabbing, her parents & psychologist overwhelming her with worry. She’s also struggling without being able to tell anyone the truth: After a near death experience (WELL, choking in the school canteen), Rory can see ghosts. She discovers the world of the Shades, a small, mysterious arm of the British Police Force who deal with Ghostly Phenomenon, include the Ripper, a homicidal ghost with a taste for those with the second sight. But she can’t tell her parents, can’t tell her school friends, can’t tell ANYONE, & it’s driving her mad. When suddenly, her therapist suggests perhaps the best medicine would be for Aurora to return to the school where the attack occurred, & finish out her school term there, she jumps at the chance. She’s soon whisked back to London, to Wexford School, & her friends. More importantly, she’ll have a chance to talk to the only other 3 people who know what really happened to her; The Shades – Stephen, Callum & Boo. Rory soon finds that she’s behind on schoolwork, she’s behind on social life, & she’s not quite as over the Ripper attack as she thought, so she turns to a new Therapist, the much more down to Earth, relatable Jane, who she can be much more open with. She also begins to come to grips, with the Shades’ help, with her new ability, seemingly a result of the attack, to destroy ghosts on contact, making her a very valuable resource to the division, & explaining why they orchestrated her return to Wexford. Amidst Aurora’s academic life collapsing, her increasingly unusual therapy sessions, & her failed romantic attempts, something is brewing under London, & Bedlam has broken free…

US Jacket! Shiny...

US Jacket! Shiny…

The Madness Underneath is clearly intended as a bridging novel between The Name of the Star & whatever Maureen’s devious brain is cooking up next, & that means one thing is paramount: Character Development. On this, she does not skimp. Aurora starts to really mature as a character, becoming much more decisive, as well as much more aware of her surroundings. Sat at an awkward age, when she no longer knows where her future will take her, she’s reckless, but as funny as ever, learning from her mistakes, & refreshingly far from perfect & glamorous. Her therapy sessions & periods of defeatist depression are heartbreaking & well written, managing to put across her chatty, funny nature despite the context. Great background characters have less development, but are still classic staples. I’d love to have seen more of Alistair, the library ghost, & of Boo too, but I can understand that this novel is all about driving Rory into a mature, passionate individual, giving her much more to strive for emotionally in the next story. Stephen, head of the Shades division does garner some development as well, with small chunks of his background & nature teased out throughout.

The thing I’m most looking forward to in the next novel in more detail is the idea of Bedlam, an old psychiatric hospital with some horrific patient treatment, with criminally insane ghosts pouring out of it. A brilliant horror setting, & the first ghost encountered by Rory & Stephen in the pub basement is genuinely pretty unsettling, great use of descriptive text & haunting visuals/sounds. And, as this is a bridging novel, the ending really ramps up the tension, the tragedy & leaves off on a heart wrenching cliffhanger… You have been warned! It’s like The Empire Strikes Back all over again…

The Previous book, The Name of the Star, was just £1 for WBD!

The Previous book, The Name of the Star, was just £1 for WBD!

Maureen’s writing manages to be engaging, funny & relatable yet again, with enough twists, turns & shocks to keep readers hooked & eager for part 3 in the series. A great blending of horror, drama, comedy & romance.

Right, I’m off to get on with my holiday!

‘Till Next Time Pilgrims.

D

P.S. I advise following the author on Twitter, she’s a hoot! @MaureenJohnson