Lockwood & Co: The Empty Grave – review

I’ve put off writing this review. To be honest, I read the book quite slowly too. You see, I’m In Denial about this being the end of the series. (No, give me a moment…where are the tissues?) The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud is the fifth and final book in the incredible Lockwood & Co series, and I’m so not ready to say goodbye to Lucy, Lockwood and George (and, all right, Holly, though I’ve never properly warmed to her). Or to Kipps, the stringy annoying one who gets quite an important part to play here. I’m even sad to say goodbye to grumpy Inspector Barnes.

I don’t even know where to start. Oh – yes I do! The front cover! HURRAHHHHHH!! Those who have read my reviews of the previous books know how INCENSED I’ve been at the missing off of what is basically the series’ central character, Lucy. Lucy is the narrator and the star; it is her journey that drives the story along. But books 1, 2 and 3 (all right, she was on the hardback version of book 1) featured Lockwood solo. I would bet my house and my children on this decision being based on the ‘girls on front covers will put boys off reading’ idea, which I can’t even don’t let me start with THAT. But here – finally – we have ALL THREE central characters right here, ready for the showdown, and yay, even George gets to be there! (Though surely he’s not podgy enough? I mean, surely this couldn’t be the idea that ‘fat people on covers are unattractive’ could it? Let’s not go THERE either.) So a big tick for the front cover from me, well done publisher.

Right – the story. Over the series it’s become clear that Lucy and Lockwood have a Thing. Chemistry. It sizzles off the page in a very English, understated way. Neither Lucy nor Lockwood is any good at being vulnerable, so it’s not surprising that we have a Mulder and Scully unresolved sexual tension thing going on, keeping the reader fully engaged in a kind of, ‘Are they EVER going to get together?’ way. Lucy, of course, is already having an affair with the skull in the jar. Not in a physical sense (ew! No, stop it) but mentally, she spars with him through her Talent and their unique connection. The Skull is on his own emotional journey, and as readers we can fully understand his longing to be set free, and Lucy’s tug to fulfil this, whilst also understanding that this Type Three is obnoxious, malicious and capricious. If she set him free, he could quite easily kill all of them. This review endeavours to stay spoiler-free, but this particular reader was THRILLED with the way the Skull’s journey panned out…

Oh sorry, the plot? See, I’m all about the characters. But we’re definitely not lacking in plot here. Stroud is perfectly capable of slotting together a plot that explains (almost) everything that’s been carefully set up over the previous books and ties up (almost) all the loose ends. The biggest story is the head of the Fittes Agency, Penelope Fittes. Except at the end of the last book, we learned that she’s actually her own grandmother Marissa, the one who founded the agency. How is this possible? The investigations undertaken by Lockwood and his associates to find out the truth take them very close indeed to death. Marissa/Penelope is a clever and powerful villain (yay, female baddies!) and she’s determined to take control of all the ghost-hunting agencies. Lockwood & Co holds out for as long as they can, but nasty things happen to people who say no to Fittes…

Many questions are answered in this story, not least the mystery surrounding the death of Lockwood’s parents (no spoilers!). There’s another journey to the Other Side, which Lucy and Lockwood visited in book 4 (The Creeping Shadow), there are returns of old foes, there’s plenty of Flo Bones, who’s brilliant and deserves her own spin-off series, and of course the Stroud humour and wit, which punctures tense situations with pinpoint accuracy:

‘Oh, is that it?’ the skull said. ‘I was enjoying that. Bit of senseless violence does wonders for morale. You should break in somewhere every night. There are heaps of old people’s homes in London. Let’s choose another one tomorrow.’

This book runs to 530 pages, and honestly, I can’t think of another writer who makes an epic story so very accessible. The language is gorgeous (‘In the midst of the swirling silver-grey smoke, the dummy’s head hung swinging from the chain’; ‘A bullet cracked against the metal tread beneath my feet, sending out a brief, bright spark’) but you don’t appreciate it for the style, you appreciate the way you can see everything happening so clearly in your mind. I’m embarrassed to admit that halfway through this book, I went back to the manuscript I’m working on (a new novel due out next year) and worked way harder on the descriptive elements because I wish I could do it as effortlessly as this!

I do have a few tiny gripes about the ending of the book. Not in terms of plot satisfaction, but there are some small elements that aren’t quite explained, and there’s something I wanted to happen that didn’t, but that particular thing says more about me than the book, which is damn near perfect.

Oh dear. What on earth am I going to fangirl over now? Series like this don’t come along very often. Hurry up and write something else, Jonathan! And congratulations on a truly fantastic ending to a superb series.

In the meantime, it’s been announced that Lockwood & Co is coming to the screen!! Big Talk Productions, you have Big Shoes to fill…

Me with author Tamsyn Murray and Jonathan Stroud at the launch party for The Empty Grave
Tamsyn went as Annabelle Ward, the powerful ghost from Book 1: The Screaming Staircase.
I, of course, went as Lucy Carlyle
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