Read a full summary of The Whispering Skull, book #2 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 Whispering Skull, 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 book she’s published.
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in The Whispering Skull?
It’s been seven months since the events that ended The Screaming Staircase, and twelve months since Lucy joined the psychic investigation team at Lockwood & Co. Lucy, Lockwood, and George are at Mallory’s End, seeking to stop the ghost of an executed criminal who’s returned after two hundred years to haunt a local preschool. Only there’s not just one ghost, but two, and then there are dozens!
They aren’t prepared for all these and must flee, but Lucy trips and falls and is about to be ghost-touched (which would kill her) when she is saved by the arrival of their worst enemies in the psychic detection world: Quill Kipps and his team from the prestigious Fittes Company. Lucy is thankful she still has her life, but Kipps and his people have such smug attitudes that soon both teams are furious with one another. Lockwood challenges Kipps to an Agency versus Agency competition. The loser must take out an advertisement in the paper acknowledging the other team’s superiority. Kipps agrees.
The next day. Lockwood & Co. is approached by a customer wanting them to dispose of the remains of a person buried in a famous cemetery. Workers are terrified. The person in the grave—Edmund Bickerstaff—died over a hundred years earlier and had a terrible reputation in life. It was said he was a grave robber and was dealing in witchcraft. Plus, he wasn’t supposed to be buried in this cemetery. No one knows how he got there! Lockwood takes the case.
They find the grave, and Lucy is immediately aware of a psychic hum. She is a “listener,” and the only one who can hear such things in their group. The malaise—dread caused by the unhappy dead—is terrible. They dig up the coffin only to discover it is partially open! The human remains are ghastly but nothing worse than they’ve seen before, except this corpse is holding something in its skeletal hands—glass of some sort, framed in what looks like wooden sticks. A mirror?
Lucy hears an invisible voice. “Look! Look! You will find your heart’s desire!” The temptation is great, but Lucy resists. George, however, is not so lucky. He and one of their employer’s assistants—Albert Joplin—are nearby and view the glass for just an instant and are transfixed. The ghost of Edmund Bickerstaff wafts out from the dead body, and George and Mr. Joplin experience profound ghost-lock, when a Visitor grasps control of a person’s mind and the person is unable to move or escape.
The Visitor swoops down and is about to touch both George and Joplin. Lucy hurls her rapier! It passes between the two men and slices into the ghost. It is temporarily controlled. She covers the human remains and the mirror with a silver net, which will control the ghost as long as it stays in place.
Thankfully, they all survive this horrifying event. Lucy is exhausted, but as she attempts to rest when they get home, she hears a voice. No one is in the room with her. What is it? She peers around and sees the skull in a jar, glowing green and staring at her.
It’s been seven months since the ghostly skull first spoke to her. Nothing they’ve done has gotten the ghost to speak again…until now. The skull whispers insulting things about George and especially about Lockwood. Lucy is angry, but it’s only saying things she herself has thought. Lockwood is great to work with, and Lucy really likes him, maybe too much. But just as the skull says, he IS secretive, especially about that room on the second floor—the room no one is allowed to see.
The skull is obviously trying to stir up problems between Lockwood & Co., but the fact that it can communicate so clearly means it’s an extremely rare Type 3 ghost. And Lucy can hear it! As irritating as the skull is, what might they learn if they keep it? The phone rings. The Bickerstaff coffin has been broken into from the supposedly safe place it had been left, still covered by the silver netting, and the mirror-thing was also taken.
Inspector Barnes of DEPRAC (the Department of Psychic Research and Control) wants the mirror found immediately. He orders Lockwood & Co. to work with Quill Kipps and his team to find it. The challenge is on!
One of the thieves is found—dead—right on the cemetery grounds. He looks like he was literally frightened to death! The other thief escaped, taking the mirror with him. One of the child guards at the cemetery saw these two earlier in the week. He tells them the escaped thief is a “relic-man” named Jack Carver.
Lockwood takes Lucy to meet a friend of his. Her name is Flo Bones, and she’s a relic-girl. These are people who are mostly petty criminals. They seek (and sometimes steal) “relics,” the Sources of ghosts. This is usually the bones but sometimes can be other things connecting the dead to their old life. They sell them to collectors. This is against the law because it’s dangerous.
Flo is an outlandishly crazy-seeming girl, not much older than Lucy, but she agrees to help them find the thief who got away with the mirror as long as they keep supplying her with licorice! Flo also tells them about the Winkman family. They are the most notorious buyers and sellers of relics in London. She warns Lockwood that both the Winkmans and Jack Carver are very dangerous.
Lockwood and Lucy disguise themselves as tourists and walk into the Winkman’s store— their legitimate business—to see if they can discover anything about their not-so-savory business. The Winkmans, who are very scary people indeed, catch them, threaten them, and throw them out.
That night there is a furious pounding on their door. When they pull the door open, Jack Carver falls inside, a knife in his back. Lucy calls DEPRAC and an ambulance. Carver tells them the person who bought the mirror, a “bone-glass,” is someone named Juice. But Lockwood knows he means Julius. Julius Winkman! Carver dies on the floor. Allthough he was a criminal, maybe a murderer, it is hard to watch this happen. Who could have killed him?
DEPRAC comes and goes, along with Quill Kipps. When Lockwood, George, and Lucy are talking about the missing bone-glass mirror and Edmund Bickerstaff later, the ghost in the jar—the Whispering Skull—begins speaking to Lucy. He says all their ideas about Bickerstaff are wrong. Lucy asks how he knows this. “Because I was there!”
The ghost is nasty and rude, but they are very excited. No one since the famous Marissa Fittes has ever spoken to a Type 3, but Lucy can. Lucy is sure they can’t trust it, but when it tells them where to find important papers Bickerstaff had all those years ago, they decide to check it out. This might be the clue they need to solve the mystery and defeat Quill Kipps’ group.
They access Bickerstaff’s very haunted house. Following the skull’s advice, they find the papers. Just then, Quill Kipps’ group arrives, having followed them, and there is a huge row that stirs up all the ghosts in this decrepit mansion. They are attacked by rat ghosts and one of Bickerstaff’s long-departed murder victims. They stop fighting each other, focus on the ghosts, then run for their lives.
George has become friendly with Albert Joplin, the employee of their original client. The papers they found in the mansion are written in an ancient language none of them know, but George thinks Joplin will. The skull talks a lot now, and it’s driving Lucy crazy, but sometimes, every so often, it tells the truth!
Flo Bones tells them Julius Winkman has announced a special auction. Only his wealthiest clients are invited. They know it must be for the bone-glass, and they determine to sneak in. But the same night, Lockwood & Co. are invited to a gala event at the Fittes Agency. They can’t miss it. Lockwood determines they can do both events!
While at the gala, they sneak into the Fittes Library because it has the only copy of an important document about Bickerstaff’s work. While they search for the document, Penelope Fittes, the granddaughter of the agency’s founder, Marissa, comes in. They are almost caught but hide and escape after Penelope leaves and also find the document.
They leave the party, and Flo Bones shows them where the top-secret auction will be held. It’s in an abandoned warehouse overlooking the Thames River. George goes with Flo, and Lucy and Lockwood sneak into the building. Sure enough, Julius Winkman is there and has lots of scary-looking guards. He also has the infamous bone-glass wrapped in a cloth. The bidding begins and Lucy notices a young man she’d just seen with Penelope Fittes at the party. Why would he be there?
Using their talents and Lockwood’s plan, they disrupt the entire sale and steal the bone-glass. The chase is on! They race up the stairs, Winkman’s men right behind them. They run outside onto a narrow ledge. Lockwood hollers for George. Finally, George answers. He and Flo are in a tiny boat floating on the Thames far below. Lockwood throws the bone-glass in its canvas bag into the river to George. He and Lucy run further upstairs but are attacked by the young man from the Fittes party. He is very good with a rapier. They are about to die when Lockwood tells Lucy there is only one way to escape. Racing away from their attacker, they throw themselves off the building…and down, down, into the Thames.
Somehow, they survive. They find their way home and discover George is not there. He should have been home long before. A laughing skull informs them that as soon as George got home, Albert Joplin showed up. They left together. This is terrible! Why would George do such a thing? The bone-glass is priceless and dangerous. People who look into it die shrieking! But the more they talk about it, the more Lucy and Lockwood realize that George has not been himself for some time, ever since he’d had that one glimpse of the bone-glass back in the cemetery. Had the mysterious glass been working on him all this time?
They figure out the one place Joplin and George might go: back to the catacombs under the cemetery where they’d first met Joplin. And they know now that Joplin is NOT a friend. He’d seen the bone-glass, too, and been as entranced as George. Lucy brings the Whispering Skull, and when they arrive at the cemetery, they find Quill Kipps’ team. They are looking for Quill, who followed George to the cemetery earlier, then disappeared.
A big group of mean-looking men come sneaking through the cemetery—Julius Winkman’s thugs! Lockwood convinces Kipps’ team to help him fight and sends Lucy into the chapel to find the way down to the catacombs. With the skull’s help, she discovers an ancient elevator, and goes down into the darkness. Where is George?
He and Quill Kipps are tied up in a small chamber with the bone-glass set on a stand above them. The body of Edmund Bickerstaff is also there. Joplin arrives. He’s gone almost completely crazy. He captures Lucy and ties her up. They learned from the stolen document that the mirror is framed by the bones of long-dead people. To look into the mirror, they think, is to see to “the other side” and find the answers to life and death and what lies beyond.
How did The Whispering Skull end?
Joplin plans to force George to look into the bone-glass, to tell what he sees from “beyond.” But everyone who looks into the mirror dies. Lucy is desperate to save George but she can’t. Joplin threatens to kill her, so George agrees to look into the mirror. He looks and slumps forward. Lucy screams. Joplin is mad George died without telling them what he saw and decides to force Lucy to look, too. As he unties her, George lunges forward, attacking Joplin. He’s not dead!
Lucy grabs the bone-glass, her eyes sliding over it. In that instant, she feels the undeniable obsession to look into it. From far away, it seems, she hears the voice of the skull. “Don’t be a fool, Lucy! Smash it!” She does. Lockwood appears and stops Joplin from shooting them all. But the iron chains have been kicked away and the Bickerstaff ghost arises. An incensed Joplin, who, as an adult, cannot see ghosts, tries to escape, and runs into the ghost.
George did not die because during his earlier fight with Joplin his glasses had been broken. The lenses had fallen out, and without them, he’s blind as a bat! Lockwood’s team wins the challenge, but he doesn’t make Kipps place the advertisement. If Quill’s team hadn’t helped him fight Winkman’s men, then they wouldn’t have survived.
Lucy has some thinking to do. The Whispering Skull definitely saved her life. She must keep it and see what else she can learn, even though she’s still convinced it’s evil.
Finally, after all this, Lockwood announces he’s done with secrets. He takes Lucy and George up to the second floor to show them what’s behind the door of the secret room.
To find out what they see, what Lucy learns next from the Whispering Skull, and what new mysteries and adventures await Lockwood & Co., read book 3 in the series—The Hollow Boy.
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