by William Ritter
Published on September 16, 2014 by Algonquin Young Readers
Genres: Mystery, Paranormal, Young Adult
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“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.
I put off reading this book for so long to read others and after finally sitting down and finishing it, I have to as myself why. Jackaby is described as “Doctor Who meets Sherlock” and I honestly can’t think of a better way to put it. Mr. R.F. Jackaby is truly a piece of work, the American Sherlock, and poor Miss Abigail Rook has become his Watson.
Abigail hails from across the pond, recently arrived in the town of New Fiddleham and in need of a job. Turned away from several businesses, she finds herself at the door of a Mr. Jackaby, our resident investigator. He’s a bit of an odd fellow with a knack for seeing things that most people don’t. You know, of the supernatural variety. His quirky nature is well-known around town so much so that he has quite a few…um, friends, we’ll call them. Jackaby is truly Sherlock.
Which is great because I love Sherlock Holmes. In more recent years he has been portrayed in the movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and the BBC show Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch. Jackaby fits perfectly in this grouping so much so that I would almost love to see it as a TV show adaption (but we all know how book-to-screen tends to end up…). I couldn’t get enough of the detective’s quirky nature, all seen through the eyes of Abigail. She’s quite the Watson herself, taking on the challenges Jackaby presents by being thrown on a case almost immediately and putting up with his living arrangements. I mean, the man has a pond on the third floor of his home. Ridiculous, but loved it.
I wouldn’t call the author’s writing extraordinary but it captured each character’s personality perfectly. Abigail isn’t exactly withdrawn, but the supernatural world is brand new to her and you see that as she slowly adjusts to the things she can’t see. Jackaby is deductive and quite oblivious when it comes to the more social aspects of life (as you can expect from any Sherlock-esque character). Charlie Cane comes into the picture from the police force and while we get only a glimpse of his loyal nature in Jackaby, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing him in the next installment. Then there is the ghost, Jenny, who has a thing or two to say about the residents in her old home; and the poor man-turned-duck Douglas. I’ll just leave that last one as-is.
It’s an odd assortment of characters but each one is distinct and really worked well together. Their antics led me on a murder mystery case involving some not-so-human elements. Sometimes the story became serious as Jackaby and Abigail analyzed a crime scene or contemplated the identity of their murderer. The rest of the time I had to keep myself from laughing too much (I started getting weird looks after the first couple outbursts). I don’t know what it is about Jackaby but he made me laugh.
Not everything worked for this book. For starters, the narrator, Abigail, didn’t hold her own compared to the personalities of the rest of the cast, leaving her more in the background. I ignored it for the most part as the star of the book definitely became our detective but her character left a little to be desired. As a whole, I wouldn’t consider this the best book I ever read, but it’s fun and quick and a light read. Nothing too serious with enough of a mystery to keep you reading though you’ll likely be able to guess most (if not all) of it early on. I read mostly for the characters and it was certainly enjoyable.
For my fellow Sherlock enthusiasts, you’ll love Jackaby and I recommend it as a feel-good read, of sorts. Prepare yourself for plenty of giggles and a fun supernaturally-imbued mystery.