Author: William Ritter
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication date: September 16th 2014
Buy at: BookDepository
Jackaby sighed and drew to a stop as we reached the corner of another cobbled street. He turned and looked at me with pursed lips. “Let’s see,” he said at last. “I observed you were recently from the Ukraine. A young domovyk has nestled in the brim of your hat. More recently, you seem to have picked up a Klabautermann, a kind of German kobold attracted to minerals. Most fairy creatures can’t touch the stuff. That’s probably why your poor domovyk nestled in so deep.”
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 won’t lie. The first thought that crossed my mind when I finished this book was “I want another one”, which turned into “oh my God, there will be another one!!” when I found out this was the first book in the series. You see, this book is brilliant.
Some compare Jackaby to BBC Sherlock and Doctor Who, and even though neither show popped into my mind as I read it, it could help explain why I loved it so much. After all, this isn’t just a “whodunnit” book (if it were, I’d have been rather disappointed as the murderer was obvious from the start), it’s a charming and witty novel that is just as much about investigating as it is about the characters.
Characters which I loved dearly. The story is told by the eyes of Abigail Rook, our Holmes or companion if you may, who becomes Jackaby’s assitant, not out of wonder at the eccentric man, but due to necessity. At the start of the story, Abigail arrives in New England in a ship from Europe with only a bag and little coin in her pocket, and Jackaby is the only person in town hiring. Thankfully for her, although she finds the man and his business rather odd, the job comes with the perk she has always longed for: adventure.
What’s more, whenever someone says something of “the female temperament”, Abigail is quick to turn it round, earning a round of much earned applause (e.g. “Out of curiosity, though, is there someone whose temperament you do find suited to this sort of thing? I think I would be most unnerved to meet a man who found it pleasant.”; I might have gasped and clapped at this).
And as for Jackaby himself, yes, he is eccentric, logical and has little social skills as the trope requires, but he is hardly cold or detached. Jackaby is a deeply humane person. I’d go as far as to say that he is a role model. If he finds a woman who imagines monsters that don’t exist, he tells others she is brave for fighting them. If someone wants to shun a kind creature just for not being human, he will stand up for the creature and point out that everyone can get along. If someone gives him a ghastly hat as a present, he will prop it onto his head and proudly wear it on the street. If someone calls him mad, he will smile and politely ask how their day has been. In other words, I loved him. It’s not often I find such kind and intelligent characters in fiction.
But it’s not just the characters that I fell in love with. The plot and the usage of the supernatural are intriguing too. Even though the story relies on the supernatural, it doesn’t use it as a senseless explanation for everything. No. There is a scientific and investigative method from start to finish. There are no flashes or bangs or creatures that come in the night and whisper prophecies. It’s a normal mystery. And even though the who was answered nearly at the start for me, the what, how and why certainly weren’t. Those answers were quite different from what I expected, and the way there was delightfully twisted and without a dull moment.
If I haven’t convinced you to read this yet, there’s one thing more: there’s a duck. An hilarious duck. And that’s all I’m saying.
Jackaby is brilliant. It kept me laughing, smiling, and turning the page without fail. What’s more, it was invariably touching, which is something I’m not used to in books of this nature. The book may rely on some of the old mystery tropes, but it’s so wonderful in execution and spirit that it’s definitely worth a read. I highly recommend it. So please read it and pass the story on. Hopefully, it’ll influence a lot of people on the way. We need more Jackaby’s in the world.
The book in a quote
“Hatun sees a different world than you or I, a far more frightening one, full of far more terrible dangers, and still she chooses to be the hero whom that world needs. She has saved this town and its people from countless monsters countless times. That the battles are usually in her head does not lessen the bravery of it. The hardest battles always are.”