I don’t so much review books as write about the books I read and what I found interesting as a reader and a writer. There may be spoilers. Reader beware.
By William Ritter
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 premise of Jackaby caught my eye and the engaging characters and swift plot kept the pages turning. Abigail Rook is a fascinating narrator, a young woman searching for adventure, so much so that she has run away from home and crossed an ocean. Jackaby is a detective who can see what others can’t, i.e. supernatural beings and phenomena. There’s a ghost living in Jackaby’s home as well as an assistant currently a duck due to a bad spell.
The characters are complex and not fully understood by the end of the novel. There are more depths to be plumbed. And thankfully, there is no romance between Abigail and her employer. She has eyes for a certain policeman involved in her first case.
There are some very specific things in the book I wish would have paid off at the end and some non-specific things that I’m unsure about. Let’s begin with how some specifics are at odds with other vague items.
As noted in the description above, the location is a city in ‘New England’, not a particular state. I’m not sure that was necessary. It’s a fictional location so go ahead and pick a state. The year is specific but current events of that time are irrelevant. I think the year is a placeholder for a time before vehicles and other modern technologies, as well as a time when Abigail’s independence makes her stand out. Knowing the general time period is enough to establish those necessary elements to the characters and setting. Having a specific year seems unnecessary or, if necessary, it isn’t realized.
The primary detail that bugged me by the end of the novel was Abigail’s skill and the reason Jackaby wants to keep her around. He may see what others cannot but she sees all the ordinary details that other people just don’t bother seeing. This is demonstrated at the first crime scene when Abigail notices things in the victim’s apartment that lead her to know his job which is a key detail in their investigation.
However, her keen eye didn’t play into the climactic fight with the Big Bad and the successful resolution. She is part of the fight, and throws several poorly aimed books to thwart the criminal, but her particular skill set doesn’t directly help the fight. I would have liked that. Abigail is brave but her snappy intelligence isn’t used like it could have been.
That said, Jackaby is a charming start to a series full of colorful characters and mysterious creatures.