Read a full summary of The Creeping Shadow, book #4 in Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. series, right here! This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in The Creeping Shadow, then you are in the right place!
Special thanks to Dawn Shipman, a new BSR contributor, who wrote this great recap! Visit her website to check out the books she’s written and to keep up with news about her new releases. See the end of the recap for links to her Goodreads, Instagram, and Facebook accounts as well as a link to the books she’s published, including her newest release, Quest of the Queen.
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in The Creeping Shadow?
Lucy no longer works for Lockwood & Co. For the last four months, she has been working as a freelance psychic investigator, hiring her services out to other companies. The Creeping Shadow begins with Lucy seeking to find and isolate the ghost of Emma Marchment, a woman who was evil in her life long before she died. Fortunately, Lucy has the Whispering Skull with her because her teammates from the Rotwell Agency are mostly useless. After nearly dying from ghost-touch, Lucy finds the ghost’s Source—a man’s mummified head!
On nights like tonight, Lucy really misses her companions at Lockwood & Co. But no, she can’t let herself think about that. She had very good reasons for leaving the company. The Rotwell supervisor is very angry about Lucy’s independent actions and only slightly less angry when he realizes that Lucy stopped the ghost. As punishment, he orders her to take the mummified head to the Fittes Furnaces, where all Sources are incinerated, thereby destroying any connection the ghosts have in this world. He won’t pay her for her work until she does.
Lucy is furious but has no choice. She takes the mummified head to the Furnaces and gives it to one of the employees—a young guy called Harold Mailer. She dozes off in the waiting room and awakens to find Mailer peering into her rucksack, which contains the Whispering Skull. Lucy is worried about this but is also exhausted. She goes home to her shoddy little flat and falls asleep.
Lucy is awakened by a knock at her door. Half asleep and in her pajamas, she opens the door to find Lockwood there! Their parting had been very unhappy. Lockwood never understood Lucy’s reasons for leaving but finally had to let her go. Hardly a day has gone by since then that Lucy hasn’t thought about him and the life she had with the company. She is very uncomfortable, and so, it appears, is he. Still, he surprises her by asking if she’ll help them out on one case only—as a freelancer. She’s not sure this is a good idea but finally agrees.
After Lockwood leaves, the Skull teases Lucy about it all. She tries to ignore it. Her first meeting with George and Holly the next day is also awkward, but they’ve been asked to take on a tough assignment given to them by Penelope Fittes. Ms. Fittes is the head of the most prestigious agency in London, and for some reason, she’s taken a shine to Lockwood & Co. The case concerns one Solomon Guppy, a man convicted and executed 30 years earlier for murder and cannibalism. It appears Guppy’s ghost has returned to his old house and the neighbors are upset…They take the case.
While waiting for the others, Lucy goes down to the Thames and finds the disreputable relic girl, Flo Bones. Lucy learns, among other things, that a mummified head was recently sold to the nasty Winkman family, dealers in illegal psychic artifacts. She finds this interesting; surely this must be a coincidence.
Lucy joins the rest of the team at Solomon Guppy’s old house that night, along with their one-time rival, now sort of-friend, Quill Kipps. Terrible, horrifying things happen as the ghost of the giant cannibal tries to chase them away. Finally, just as they find what they think is the ghost’s Source, it attacks them. Lockwood jumps out to do battle with it alone. He buys them time to dig out the Source—a jar of human teeth from Guppy’s victims—and they finally stop the cannibal.
But why would Lockwood do such a foolish, reckless thing? Lucy asks George about it later and he tells her Lockwood became that way after Lucy left them. George makes very clear he also was devastated by Lucy’s abandonment. She doesn’t know how to react. Lockwood was always trying to “save” her. She thought if she left, he would be safer.
With these disturbing thoughts in mind the next morning, Lucy goes out to get her breakfast. When she returns, the door to her apartment has been kicked in and there is only one thing missing: the Whispering Skull. The Skull is so irritating, evil even, but he’s also saved her life on several occasions. Lucy wants it back!
There is only one person other than the Lockwood crew who knows Lucy has the Skull, and she goes after him. Harold Mailer tries to deny that he had anything to do with the Skull’s theft, but Lucy forces the truth from him. People came to him, he says, offering a lot of money for just such impressive psychic artifacts. He doesn’t know who they are but is terrified of them. He finally agrees to meet Lucy after work to tell her what he knows.
Lucy realizes something is wrong as she approaches Harold at the appointed place that night. He’s sitting much too calmly. He’s slumped over, in fact. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she sees a ghost. It’s Harold. “You did this to me, Lucy,” he whispers. “It’s in the place of blood.” Lucy isn’t sure what this means.
Harold disappears, and Lucy is surrounded by living men, all intent on killing her, too. She runs. They chase her through half of London and she is cut by a knife, but finally escapes them. She can’t go home—they know where she lives. Terrified and exhausted, she makes her way to the only place she can think of: 35 Portland Row. Lockwood and George take her in, feed her, and care for her wounds and tell her she can stay there as long as she needs to. They’ll also help her find the Skull. Exhausted and relieved, Lucy falls into a deep sleep in her old attic bedroom.
The next morning, they meet a potential new client, a 10-year-old boy named Danny Skinner. He insists they drop everything and come with him to his village in the country because the Problem is worse than anywhere else. There are many ghosts, but worst of all is a giant specter he calls the Creeping Shadow. They think he’s exaggerating and tell him ‘no.’ Maybe they’ll look into it later, but they can’t now. They have to get into the next relic man sale to try and find the Whispering Skull. They feel sure the Winkmans will want it for their mysterious collector and turn to Flo Bones for help.
Wearing disguises and carrying “spirit capes” to sell—beautiful garments made of feathers that supposedly protect from ghosts—they are admitted to the gathering. It’s held in an abandoned Tube station where a horrific gas explosion destroyed a train and everyone on it years earlier.
The gathering is overflowing with buyers and sellers, and sure enough, the Winkmans are there. They hate Lockwood & Co. because they helped put Julius, the father of the family, in prison the year before. Almost immediately, Lucy hears a familiar voice calling her: the Skull. Lockwood creates a rather noisy diversion, and Lucy goes after the Skull. She almost escapes with it when Leopold Winkman, the son of the family, attacks her and knocks the Skull out of her hands. She and Lockwood must run for their lives.
Armed guards are coming after them from one direction. The other direction leads into the haunted Tube tunnel. It seems hopeless, but Lucy and Lockwood put the spirit capes on and run down the tunnel. The capes will either work, or they will die. As it turns out, they DO work. None of the ghosts can touch them even though many try. Finally, they escape and find their way back to Portland Row without the Whispering Skull.
Penelope Fittes wants Lockwood & Co. to join her organization. She is very unhappy when Lockwood tells her ‘no.’ His company’s independence means everything to Lockwood.
With the Winkmans after them, Lockwood decides spending time away in the country might be a good thing. They tell Danny Skinner they will come and investigate the haunting. The fact that the Rotwell agency seems to be behind the purchase of the illegal psychic artifacts in London and that Rotwell’s has a research facility near Danny Skinner’s village of Aldbury Castle might also have something to do with Lockwood’s decision. Kipps goes with them.
Danny Skinner was not exaggerating. For a village of its size, Aldbury Castle has an incredible number of specters and other ghosts. They deal with some minor ones and are planning their next step when Steve Rotwell himself shows up at the inn. He is a big man, arrogant and threatening. He knows who they are and warns them to stay away from his institute. That’s all it takes to make Lockwood determined to do the opposite.
As they go out that night to deal with more of the local ghosts, Lucy becomes aware of an undercurrent of unnatural humming. No one else can hear it, but this is not unusual. Lucy’s greatest psychic gift is Listening. This sound reminds her of what she heard when near the bone glass in The Whispering Skull) and later when she discovered the great circle of bones underneath Aickmere’s Department Store in The Hollow Boy. It usually means the presence of great psychic activity.
Lucy and Lockwood go to investigate, and while they are out, they come upon a ghostly character unlike any they’ve seen before. It is huge and clunky, with arms and legs streaming smoke and fire. They can see through it. It glides through the churchyard, and suddenly it’s as if every ghost in the cemetery arises from its grave and begins following it, just the way Danny Skinner had described. There can be no doubt, this is the Creeping Shadow.
Lockwood decides the Shadow and all the rest must be connected to the Rotwell Institute and they must check it out. The rest of the group agrees, even Kipps. The Institute is housed in a cluster of hurriedly put-together buildings in a large field on the far side of a big hill behind Aldbury Castle. The field was once the site of an ancient battle between the Saxons and the Vikings called The Place of Blood.
The group sneaks through the woods and across the field to the fence surrounding the compound. They cut the wire fence and enter the nearest building, where they discover illegal weapons and many contained ghosts with their Sources. It’s like a giant laboratory. They are almost captured, but Lockwood and Lucy sneak away, finding their way to the place where the psychic hum is loudest. It almost knocks Lucy over. It’s a huge building overflowing with ghosts and their Sources, all held captive behind huge iron chains on the floor.
Steve Rotwell and a number of his employees stand around the circle, waiting for something, and finally it comes. Huge, lurching, flames shoot from its ungainly body. The Creeping Shadow emerges from the circle, holding onto another iron chain hanging chest-high through the mass of captive ghosts. Soon, the Shadow—which turns out to be a man in a suit of iron—is hosed down by Rotwell employees, and they all leave the room.
Lucy and Lockwood are left alone with the iron chain circle and its seething ghosts. Lucy hears a familiar voice: the Skull. But he’s not inside the circle; he had been cast aside when the Rotwell people couldn’t pry open his silver glass prison. Lucy is very happy, but people are returning. They must leave. She runs to Lockwood, but he is entranced by the circle. Now more people are coming, and there’s no way out. The iron circle fills the whole end of the room, clear to the walls.
Lockwood pulls his spirit cape from his backpack and puts it on. He tells Lucy to do the same, saying it’s the only way. Terrified, Lucy does as he says and, clinging to the chest-high iron chain bisecting the circle, follows him in. They are immediately surrounded by ghosts—the huge form of Solomon Guppy, the evil Emma Marchment, and many others—but, as with the crashed rail car in the abandoned Tube line earlier, the ghosts cannot touch them. The spirit capes work again. They’d hoped to hide in the circle until Rotwell and crew left, but it appears they’re sending the Creeping Shadow back in.
They go out the far side of the circle, but everything has changed. Things are gray and lifeless, flat-looking. They decide to go back to the Inn to look for George and the rest, but nothing is the same. No one is at the Inn, and the land itself looks different. Suddenly, agitated, local ghosts appear all around them, seeking them out. Even with the spirit capes on, it’s hard for Lockwood and Lucy to not freak out. They begin running back toward the Institute. Lucy falls, and her spirit cape rips apart. The cold is overwhelming, and she thinks she will die. Lockwood pulls her under his cape and holds it tightly around them both as they continue to run.
Somehow, they know they are on the Other Side, the one where ghosts exist and they are the unwelcome visitors. When they came out of the far side of the iron circle, they left their world behind and entered this one. Now they must go back in. They find the building and see the circle but can’t find the iron chain they need to hold onto to be safe from the ghosts.
They are running wild, panicking, when suddenly Lucy sees a strange, gray-toned young man leaning against a wall, smiling with an all-too familiar grin. He points over her shoulder, and Lucy sees the pole holding the iron chain that marks the circle’s entrance. When she looks back, the young man is gone, but somehow, she knows who that person was. She and Lockwood run into the ghostly circle and hurry through and out the other side, where a huge battle is going on.
Holly, George, and Kipps are attacking the Rotwell crew with the weapons they found in the first building. They had seen Lucy and Lockwood go into the circle and thought they were dead. Most of Rotwell’s have run away, but Steve Rotwell is still fighting. Lockwood pulls his rapier and goes after him. He and Lucy are incredibly weak after their excursion on the Other Side, and Rotwell soon disarms him. He shouts he’s going to kill all Lockwood’s friends and Lockwood first of all.
Rotwell is about to do it when Lucy comes to the rescue. She gives a solid kick to his backside, knocking the big man to the floor and partway into the iron circle. Before he can get up, he’s pulled by the voracious imprisoned ghosts into the circle with them. So ends Steve Rotwell, chairman of the Rotwell Agency.
But the circle is damaged now, and all the ghosts are surging toward the weakened links. If they escape the circle, everyone will die. Throwing the biggest magnesium flare that any of them had ever seen, Lockwood & Co. turn and run. They barely make it to the perimeter fence when the first explosion hits. Soon, the whole compound is on fire.
How did The Creeping Shadow end?
Later, back on Portland Row, they are having a celebratory breakfast, even as they are still trying to understand what they’d experienced the last several days. Lucy has been welcomed back for good and is especially happy she and Lockwood now seem to understand one another better.
Someone rings the doorbell. Penelope Fittes and her bodyguard, the nasty Sir Rupert Gale, stroll into the kitchen. Ms. Fittes orders them—threatens them, even—to stay out of her way. She has taken over the Rotwell agency along with her own. She is now the most powerful woman in London and warns them to not “get involved in things above your intellectual station.” They leave after insulting every member of Lockwood & Co.
After a few minutes of shock, Lockwood gives them all one of his blinding smiles and declares they will not be obeying Ms. Fittes’ orders. Something BIG is going on. Steve Rotwell knew about it and, apparently, so does Penelope Fittes. They are going to find out what it is.
Just when things can’t seem to get worse, the Skull speaks up, though only Lucy can hear it. He met Penelope’s grandmother, Marissa, the founder of the Fittes agency, many years earlier. She was the only one who could talk to him the way Lucy does. The Skull knows something else, too: Penelope Fittes is not Penelope. She is Marissa herself, alive after all these years, but looking younger and more beautiful than she ever had. Penelope IS Marissa!
What will happen next? Read Lockwood & Co. Book 5—The Empty Grave—to find out!
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