Tuesday 18 November 2014

#CBR6 Book 117: "Jackaby" by William Ritter

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

 From the Goodreads synopsis, because it's been a month since I read it, and the blurb is part of what drew me in:

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 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 assissant in a tale brimming with cheeky humour and a dose of the macabre. 

I can absolutely see why the publishers decided to mention both Doctor Who and Sherlock in an attempt to draw readers to this book, which I first saw mentioned by The Book Smugglers. The gorgeous cover and the interesting blurb made me curious, and I saved the book to read during October's 24-hour Readathon. I'm glad I did. I'm assuming the Doctor Who comparisons come from the fact that we see the story through the eyes of a clever young woman, like so many of the Doctor's companions through the years. Jackaby himself is clearly at least partly modelled on Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock, both in looks and mannerisms. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective is even name checked early in the book. Yet there is a supernatural twist to this Victorian mystery, involving a number of creatures from Gaelic mythology. There are ghosts, a man turned into a duck, a werewolf and some fairly gruesome murders.

Abigail Rook is a delightful narrator. Having run away from her family's expectations to join an archaeological dig (and finding it rather dull), she ends up on a ship to America. Trying to find a job, so she doesn't have to return home, she meets the eccentric and mysterious Jackaby, who's looking for a new assistant. He's not at all sure she is suited for the position, but after accompanying him to a crime scene and impressing him with her quick thinking and admirable common sense, a nice balance to his own off-beat thinking, he agrees to keep her on for a trial basis.

Having been granted room and board, Abigail discovers that Jackaby's landlady appears to be the ghost of the woman who once owned the house, one of his former assistants is now a duck who lives by a pond on the third floor and there are more things between heaven and earth than was dreamt of in her philosophy. As it becomes obvious that they're dealing with a dangerous serial killer, Ms. Rook grows closer to Charlie Cane, probably the only police detective in New Fiddleham who will give Jackaby the time of day.

I figured out the identity of the murderer fairly early on in the story, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment in the slightest, as the main thrust of the story doesn't really seem to be unmasking the killer, but just watching Abigail and Jackaby's partnership develop. I loved that there isn't even a hint of romance between the two of them, although there are romantic possibilities elsewhere in the story. I loved the faerie elements and the various supernatural entities that make up part of Jackaby's world. While Abigail can see some of them, she is in some ways the Scully to his Mulder, and there is nothing wrong with that. The story had a very nice build towards a very tense and dramatic conclusion, the world building is creative, the characters are lots of fun to spend time with. As this is Ritter's debut novel, I have no idea if he is planning any more books about the characters, but the ending is open enough that there are promising possibilities. I will happily spend more time with Ms. Abigail Rook and her strange boss.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read,

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