Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Jackaby by William Ritter

Review: Jackaby by William Ritter
Release date: September 16th, 2014
Publisher: Algonquin
Series: Yes? I think? Pretty sure there will be a sequel
Source: print ARC from BEA14
Length: 368 pages
Rating: I somewhat enjoyed this, but it cleaved a bit too closely to stories I've experienced before.


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.

Jackaby was one my most anticipated reads of the fall because it's pitched as a mashup between two of my favorite shows: Doctor Who and Sherlock. Unfortunately, though Jackaby has a delightful sense of humor and sparkling prose, it almost feels too much like the aforementioned shows, like highbrow fanfiction. 

 It's Sherlock Holmes, antisocial genius detective, but instead of having a keen eye for the details and a nose for logic, he has the ability to see paranormal creatures. He is the Doctor, whimsical, eccentric, and adorable, with an inquisitive and plucky companion, in a fictional city in 1892 New England.

It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it left me with too many things to compare. It made it hard for me to figure out who Jackaby himself was. He's not quite as brilliant as Sherlock, not quite as moving as any of the Doctor's incarnations. He has the best of both without having the consistency of either. As Debby pointed out in her review, Sherlock and the Doctor are very different, and trying to emulate both of them in one character doesn't really work. I'm not sure if Ritter was actively trying to write them together, or if he was just going for that kind of enigmatic central figure, but I never though Jackaby--funny and delightful as he is--ever truly gelled.

Also, I have no idea how old he is. Did the text ever say? I had no idea how to picture him, and it drove me nuts.

 Our narrator, however, is not Jackaby, but young Abigail Rook, who is admirably stalwart and very determined to make it on her own. Newly arrived from England (via many other exotic places), she becomes Jackaby's assistant. You see, he's a paranormal detective, and there's just been a paranormal murder, and Jackaby and Abigail are on the case. 

This book is fun and breezy and downright hilarious at times, but I never really connected to anybody. Abigail is fine, but I never truly felt I knew her or her mild love interest, Junior Detevtive Charlie Cane. The historical setting sort of comes to life, and the plethora of supernatural creatures were totally interesting. But none of it really matters if I don't find a way to connect emotionally wiht the POV character, and in this case, I never did. There really wasn't much to Abigail.

Despite all that, this book was fun. Sometimes Jackaby's vagueness and ignorance of basic human behavior was funny, and I quite enjoyed the murder mystery and the way all the secret paranormal goings-on in New Fiddleham tied into it, even if I predicted most of the twists. Some part of the story were even somewhat moving. I was betrayed by my super high expectations, but Jackaby is still a fine read, especially at the right time, but it's by no means exceptional. And it TOTALLY could have been. 

I think I'll check out the sequel, because I am curious about certain things, but this book was mostly a surface book. I'm honestly not sure if I liked it more or less because I do love both Sherlock and Doctor Who, but I honestly can't figure out my feelings for Jackaby anyway. Shrug? Approving, vaguely disinterested headshakenod? I don't know.

Yeah, pretty much.


  1. Aww you mentioned my review :) But yeah, agreed on all counts. This was dangerously close to just being fanfiction. And the characters all bored me. Except the duck, I guess. But STILL. ORIGINALITY WOULD HAVE BEEN APPRECIATED. (And I really wish they'd announce already if this is a series or not, so I can debate endlessly about whether or not I'd read the sequel.)

    1. I heard that this will indeed continue on in a series. Whether it's just one more book or not, idk but the pub/author mentioned that YES there will be another. I'm hoping now that the groundwork is laid out that we can really get to KNOW THE PEEPS.

  2. I agree with all of these things. Also I liked it and want to keep going but kind of in the way you like and keep going with a thing that is more of a meh kind of like than a deep and true liking. Or something. However there's a duck and a hallway pond and this kind of pleasing nonsense cannot be ignored. Also I really like Abigail. Total agreement re: Jackaby being kind of an enigma. Anyhoo, stuff and things. This stream of consciousness ramble has been brought to you by Meg's Friday afternoon apathy.

  3. While I'm sad to hear this isn't as amazing as it sounds like it could have been-your review does make me still want to read it! that makes me feel better because some of the more ambivalent comments had me worried. Taking the best of the Doctor and Sherlock does make anything sound so entertaining that it might be too good to be true if that makes sense!


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