Lockwood & Co: The Empty Grave

posted in: Jonathan Stroud | 3

I wonder if any ghosts haunted Jonathan Stroud (@JonathanAStroud) as he sat down to write the final instalment of his deservedly best-selling series about a small team of young ghost-hunters, the eponymous Lockwood & Co.

Series are wonderful and tricky things. If a book can be like a hug, a good series can be like a life changing relationship, offering extended horizons to bask in and relish. But when a series draws to a close, the fear of loss can be acute. I was certainly anxious with the arrival of The Empty Grave; Lockwood & Co. are loved so very much here by all the family, adults and children alike, and I was haunted with anticipation and questions: Would this final book manage to live up to all our expectations? Could the series draw to a close in a satisfying and convincing matter, leaving us fully contented, perhaps sad but also replete with a sense of everything coming together just as it should? Endings, especially with loved ones, are very difficult to get right.

As soon as I opened the envelope containing this heavy burden of hope the book was whipped out my hands by my 12 year old; her fizzy anticipation and hungry eagerness to read The Empty Grave reminded me of the heady days of Harry Potter in the 1990s.

Three quiet hours later she was done.

And very happy indeed.

With this excellent sign to encourage me, I then hid away with the book (it felt like such a wonderful guilty pleasure disappearing off with the tingling prospect of enormous enjoyment) and within just a page or two I knew I could not exactly relax but could certainly luxuriate in the pulsing adrenaline of robust, solid and thrilling storytelling.

The Empty Grave opens with ghost detection and destruction agency Lockwood and Co. unlawfully breaking into the crypt of Marissa Fittes, the first and greatest psychic investigator of all time. Lockwood, Lucy and George, ably abetted by the two newer members of their team, Holly and Kipps, are determined to piece together a disturbing puzzle concerning the ultimate source of The Problem i.e. the growth of hauntings across Britain.

Could it possibly be that there is deception at the heart of The Fittes Agency, the leading psychical investigation agency? Whilst they have built their reputation on protecting us all from the increasing number of ghosts, perhaps the Fittes Agency plays a more sinister role in The Problem, one which they definitely would not want to become public knowledge. Just ask yourself: Who stands to gain more from an epidemic of ghosts than a business which claims to safeguard us from them?

A devilishly good combination of engaging cast, memorable locations, comforting food and delicious pace all sewn together with seriously good, unaffected writing, The Empty Grave is the fully monty; entertainment, excitement and intelligence sprinkled with wit and verve and sparkling throughout with an endorphin-laced exploration of a liminal frontier – in this case the very boundary between the living and the dead.

Ultimately the Lockwood and Co. series could be described as being full of stories of young people trying to make sense of the world, to understand why certain things happen, testing their own abilities to control the threats the face and make the world a little bit safer. These young people are imaginative, resourceful and funny and brave; the sort of people you find yourself wishing to be a little more like, their flaws not withstanding. I am definitely not the only one very sad to have turned the final pages on Lockwood, Lucy, George, Holly and Kipps’ adventures. Perhaps most of all I will miss dear Skull.

The Empty Grave is a fitting and extraordinary end to a remarkable series; I am very envious of those who are yet to discover Lockwood & Co. for themselves.

Past play inspired by earlier books in the Lockwood & Co series has included going on a local ghost walk and making screaming skulls and salt bombs. This time, however, we decided to make little moving toys with agents capturing ghosts.

If you want to try making one yourself you’ll need a matchbox (the ones we used were just like these) and you might find our template useful too.

You can colour in the agents and ghosts we’ve made, or draw on your own (don’t forget your silver net!) before cutting out around the edge.

Once you’ve cut out your Agent, net and ghost, fold the base strip and at the dotted lines.

Open the matchbox 3/4 quarters of the way (having decorated it first if you wish to) and stick the outermost ends of the base strip to your matchbox.

Now, when you open and shut the matchbox it looks like your agent is catching a ghost!

Thanks go to this tutorial for a butterfly-catching toy for inspiring our alternative ghost version.

Other activities which would go well with reading Lockwood & Co: The Empty Grave could include:

  • Making your own spirit cape by adapting bird wing costumes (or if you want to take the easy route for a fancy dress event, there are plenty of cheap feather capes on ebay!)
  • Visiting a historic cemetery, local haunted building or even a museum; I recently visited a small but brilliant museum called Newman Brothers Coffin Works, which is a preserved historic factory where coffin decorations (handles, plaques etc) were made

  • Hosting a halloween party. There are loads of ideas on Pinterest, but one I’d especially like to try is using chicken wire to create ghostly shapes, spray painting them with glow in the dark paint, and then leaving them outside in the night to see them “come to life”!

  • Whilst making our Agent-capturing-a-ghost toy, we listened to

  • Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre
  • The overture to Marschner’s Der Vampyr
  • Sciarrino’s Six Caprices for Solo Violin – music to imagine scraping fingers on cold surfaces to!

  • Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Lockwood & Co: The Empty Grave by the book’s publisher Corgi Childrens (Puffin).

    3 Responses

    1. Tanya

      My son and I are huge fans also and I completely enjoyed and connected with your description of the anticipation and expectations for this final book. While I stopped reading your review once you started talking about the plot of this new book (it doesn’t come out in the US until 9/12) we are SO glad to hear it delivers! I look forward to reading the rest of your review next week! And you’re right – this is like the heady days of Harry Potter! Fortunately, I listen to the audio and my son reads the book. Although I may be grabbing it out of his hands! Thank you for this review and all you do!

      • Zoe

        Dear Tanya, thank you so much for your comment. I really hope that when you’ve read the book you’ll come back to my review and feel that I didn’t reveal any spoilers. I find it a challenge to write meaningfully about a book without including some information on a plot, but am of course always mindful that many readers want as little as possible revealed before they themselves read the book. I hope you and your son enjoy The Empty Grave as much as we did.
        Zoe recently posted..Lockwood & Co: The Empty Grave

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