Tuesday, October 4, 2016

YA SERIES: Jackaby by William Ritter


“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.


The minute I first heard about this book I was intrigued.  I'm not sure why I have a fascination with historical mysteries, maybe it ties back to my first reading of Sherlock Holmes, in any case I knew I wanted to read this series.  The addition of the supernatural added a touch of creepiness to the already strong air of mystery that the story holds.  Abigail makes for a great narrator with her ability to observe the 'ordinary' as Jackaby says.  She gives the reader a look at her new employer that makes Jackaby as much of a mystery as the murder they are trying to solve.  His unusual ability to see the supernatural allows him to notice things that nobody else does, but at the same time he misses the ordinary, which makes Abigail such a great assistant for him.  Add in Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghost who inhabits Jackaby's current residence and her mysterious death and the frog that stinks up the whole house, and throw in a former assistant turned duck and you've got a thoroughly entertaining story that really doesn't read like anything else.  It does have a taste of Sherlock Holmes to it combined with Stroud's Lockwood & Co. focus on ghosts and ghouls.  There is a tiny bit of bad language and a moderate amount of violence (someone was brutally murdered after all, several someone's actually).  I found Jackaby a fascinating case study in the art of the historical fantasy mystery (is there such a genre? If not there should be).


I've found very little about private detective R. F. Jackaby to be standard in the time I've known him. Working as his assistant tends to call for a somewhat flexible relationship with reality . . .

In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, are called upon to investigate the supernatural. First, members of a particularly vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens. A day later, their owner is found murdered, with a single mysterious puncture wound to her neck. Then, in nearby Gad's Valley, dinosaur bones from a recent dig go missing, and an unidentifiable beast attacks animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Policeman Charlie Cane, exiled from New Fiddleham to the valley, calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.


Having thoroughly enjoyed the first Jackaby mystery, I was eager to pick up the second.  The book did not disappoint.  In fact, this second book adds to Jackaby's mystique as he and Abigail set out to discover who murdered Mrs. Beaumont shortly after they relieved her of some rather unusual kittens.  The wound in her neck connects her death to a couple of other deaths that occurred elsewhere.  So Jackaby and Abigail set off to meet up with Charlie Barker, a policeman friend that Abigail rather has a crush on, to find out who is doing the murdering and why.  The addition of a fantastic archaeological find thrills Abigail deeply.  But things take a turn for the strange when they arrive at the site only to find that someone has been stealing bones, leaving tracks, and ripping a young goat to pieces, indicating that some supernatural force may indeed be at work.  Additional interesting characters pepper the book creating an environment of confusion where anything may happen, and indeed anything does happen.  Once again, Ritter has written a book that beautifully combines an historical setting with an intriguing mystery and the creepiness of the supernatural.


Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghostly lady of 926 Augur Lane, has enlisted the investigative services of her fellow residents to solve a decade-old murder—her own. Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, Detective R. F. Jackaby, dive into the cold case, starting with a search for Jenny’s fiancĂ©, who went missing the night she died. But when a new, gruesome murder closely mirrors the events of ten years prior, Abigail and Jackaby realize that Jenny’s case isn’t so cold after all, and her killer may be far more dangerous than they suspected.

Fantasy and folklore mix with mad science as Abigail’s race to unravel the mystery leads her across the cold cobblestones of nineteenth-century New England, down to the mythical underworld, and deep into her colleagues’ grim histories to battle the most deadly foe she has ever faced.


Having been pulled into Jackaby's and Abigail's world completely in volumes 1 and 2, I was interested to see where book three would take me.  Ritter definitely managed to surprise me with this one.  I knew going in that Jenny's death was finally going to be investigated and that one of the villains from a previous volume was still at large, but I didn't expect things to come together the way they did, especially since Jackaby's own history is intertwined with the events that follow.  Abigail, seeking to help her ghostly friend, Jenny, allows Jenny to possess her briefly, giving her a glimpse into some of Jenny's memories.  But when she starts getting headaches and blacking out, things seem to have gone dreadfully wrong.  But when dead bodies turn up and circumstances reveal things that coincide with Jenny's experiences, it seems clear that the past and the present have collided in horrible ways.  I was thrilled to start learning more about Jackaby and his past and how he ended up where he did, but it slowly becomes evident that Jackaby's been on the run for a long time.  Events are slowly catching up to both Jackaby and Abigail and they need the help of all their allies if they hope to survive it all.  The supernatural violence is not overly graphic, but there is all to much of it making this a book more appropriate for older tweens.  The ending makes it clear that there is still much to come.

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