My Rating: 4.5/5 TARDISes
Series: Jackaby #1
Date Published: September 16th, 2014
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Pages: 299 pages
Synopsis: “Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion–and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”
Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.
Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.
This is a spoiler-free review.
Between the intriguing synopsis and the beautiful cover art, this novel caught my eye right away. I was very eager to dive into it, and it did not disappoint. Jackaby is an incredibly entertaining and hilarious ride that captivated me right from the start and held me until the final page. This book is pitched as being “Doctor Who meets Sherlock” and it quite is reminiscent of both while never feeling copycat. Ritter uses general, well-loved aspects of these two stories to build his own, truly unique and cleverly written tale.
The story focuses on an eccentric detective named Jackaby, and is told from the point of view of his bright, young assistant, Abigail Rook. Abigail has run away from her family and, having just arrived in America, is looking for work. Answering his advertisement, she finds herself working for the highly intelligent and incredibly eccentric Jackaby, and subsequently is plunged into the world of crime. These are not simply ordinary crimes however, but crimes committed by supernatural beings that most people, herself included, cannot see.
Jackaby is an unusual sort of detective, and a very peculiar character. I found him to be very much a mixture of Sherlock Holmes and the Eleventh Doctor. He has the intellect and the unbelievably acute powers of observation that Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective has, mixed with the quirky nature of the beloved time traveling hero. Jackaby works as a detective, like Holmes, but in the world of the supernatural, like the Doctor. He resembles each person in different ways, which, when put together, adds up to a very singular character.
I thought Abigail was sort of a John Watson, Clara Oswald hybrid. She is a highly intelligent person herself, as well as a strong female lead who holds her own alongside the detective. The fact that Abigail is the narrator of the story, recounting her experiences with Jackaby, gives it the same quality of the original Sherlock Holmes novels. She is also the person who deals with the more human aspects of the cases, something with which Jackaby tends to struggle on his own. Overall, she is a clever, brave, and spunky character, and makes up the second half of a marvelous pairing.
While the two of them had qualities that reminded me of these other characters, they still felt like purely original creations. Ritter constructs them in a way where he uses familiar qualities audiences have come to love as a template to form entirely new people with distinct personas.
For the most part, I found the writing in this novel to be spot on. Ritter does a wonderful job of evoking a dark yet humorous tone and building the 19th century New England town in which the novel is set. The dialogue is sharp, witty, at times sarcastic, and appropriately fast-paced. All of the characters, both human and supernatural, in this novel are very compelling, meticulously created, and skillfully portrayed. Ritter invents two fully developed and vibrant worlds. One is realistic and one is much more mystical and filled with vividly depicted creatures, and they both intertwine fluidly.
The plot itself was a relatively typical murder mystery, made complex with its elements of fantasy and science fiction. I will admit, I did figure out who the culprit was well before the end of the novel, however, this did not detract at all from my enjoyment of it. And there were still a satisfying amount of twists and surprises in other aspects of the story, such as the fantastical elements, that caused enough of a feeling of wonder to create an engrossing narrative.
This novel is by no means perfect, and I definitely believe that it is sort of a hit or miss type of story. But it is such an incredibly fun tale and personally, I couldn’t help but love every minute of reading it. I adored being in this world, particularly Jackaby’s world of bizarre creatures. Ritter draws inspiration from some very widely loved characters and uses this to create new and equally lovable ones. He retains a solid amount of individuality while conjuring up the same feelings that these other timeless tales do for their admirers. For me, this truly was an enchanting read. I am looking forward to seeing how this series progresses in the future books.
I very highly recommend giving this book a try. And remember: “DO NOT STARE AT THE FROG!”