The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

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hollow boyThe Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud
Lockwood & Co. Book 3
Disney Hyperion, 2015

In Lockwood & Co.’s strong third outing, Stroud continues to develop the characters and the world in ever more rich fashion. The Chelsea area of London is suffering an intense epidemic of supernatural hauntings, and all the top agencies are baffled about where the Source could be.

Meanwhile, the three psychic investigators at Lockwood & co – the charismatic Lockwood (I picture him as a youthful Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes), the nerdy and brilliant George, and the super Sensitive Lucy Carlyle, our narrator – are busy but with much lower profile cases. So busy, that Lockwood decides to bring in a new employee: “coffee-skinned” Holly Munro. Lucy immediately resents Holly’s elegant looks and efficient work-habits. And, even worse, her apparent appeal to Lockwood.

The first section in the book is a leisurely paced catch-up, and also serves well as an introduction to readers new to the series. Then the tempo, intensity and horror ratchet up as the agents work their way into the Chelsea hauntings, ending with a prolonged night of terror in an old department store. Ends are left open for another book.

Lucy is maturing into a young woman, in terms of both her skills and her emotions. She is a flawed and somewhat impetuous teen, and rather willful about using her ability to communicate with Visitors, particularly as this is more easily done without the usual protections.

Lucy’s deep attraction to Lockwood grows, and she learns more about his personal history. He continues to be the flamboyant figurehead of the agency and the book, and is starting to show some interesting weaknesses: he shows very little understanding of Lucy’s feelings, and closes off any discussion about that and about his past.

Holly is an excellent addition, not least for adding a darker skin tone, and also for the frisson of romantic tension she generates. George, after his bid for attention in the last book (The Whispering Skull, 2014), now appears to be happy to stay in his support role. The skull provides some welcome Bartimaeus-tinged light relief.

This is a middle grade series that shows no sign of flagging. Mr Stroud has created an extraordinarily detailed world peopled with fine three-dimensional characters, and guides them through a marvelously well-paced and intricate plot. Can’t wait for the next one.

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