Jackaby: Fun start to a fresh YA fantasy series

Jackaby by William Ritter YA fantasy book reviewsJackaby by William Ritter

William Ritter’s Jackaby (2014) is a pleasant young adult mystery with a smart girl main character and a title character who is the Sherlock Holmes of the paranormal.

It’s 1892 in New England, and Abigail Rook has just stepped off a freighter onto the waterfront of New Fiddleham. Abigail is British, the daughter of a socialite mother and a globe-trotting paleontologist father. Raised to be a lacy, docile, obedient girl, Abigail kicked over the traces and went to Europe on a “dinosaur dig” of her own. The funds ran out, and now she is stuck in New England.

Her first night in the new town, Abigail encounters a young man who can describe just where she’s been in Europe. He says he is doing it from observation, but what he claims to be observing are the supernatural creatures who tagged along with Abigail, unbeknownst to her. She writes him off as eccentric, and goes for a job interview the next day, with R.F. Jackaby — the same strange young man. Jackaby is a man of science, he insists, but he is open to the supernatural — in fact, he can see things most humans can’t. As a paranormal investigator, he is called in by the police at times, if reluctantly, because Marlowe, the local police captain, is highly skeptical.

Abigail does not see supernatural creatures (except for the friendly ghost that inhabits Jackaby’s house) but she is a keen observer, and somewhat to Jackaby’s surprise, her abilities prove extremely helpful when they are called to investigate a locked-room mystery at an apartment house. Before they can solve the murder, though, there is another killing, and Jackaby fears they are dealing with a serial killer, whose pattern of murder is accelerating.Jackaby (4 Book Series) by William Ritter

Abigail is smart and brave. She stands up for herself. There is an attractive young police detective, Charlie Cane, whose life is “complicated.” (There is a clue in his name.) The book is filled with fun characters like Jackaby himself. For an older reader like me, clues seemed pretty obvious and the identity of the culprit was not a surprise, but I think a young reader, twelve or up, would enjoy following the clues and trying to puzzle it out along with Abigail and Jackaby. Jackaby is funny, filled with bits of slapstick and word-play, and Ritter’s imaginings of supernatural creatures, like the banshee, are fresh. I particularly liked the tuning forks. The writing is brisk and filled with good descriptions. The analytical Mr. Jackaby is far from perfect, and the book laughs at him and invites us to join in. This is a good opening to a fun YA series.

Published in September 2014. 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 the foul deeds are the work of the kind of creature whose very existence the local authorities–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane — seem adamant to deny.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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2 comments

  1. This does sound like fun! I didn’t realize it was intended for a YA audience, but that obviously didn’t keep you from enjoying it, so I’m glad.

  2. Melanie Goldmund /

    I really liked this book, too; it really was just pure fun.

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