Sunday, March 13, 2022

REVIEW: Jackaby (book) by William Ritter

Jackaby is a YA paranormal historical mystery. It's apparently the first in a series, although I didn't know that while I was reading it. I got my copy via interlibrary loan.


Just before Abigail Rook is supposed to start her university education, she takes the money her parents set aside for tuition, hastily packs a bag, and answers an advertisement for an "exciting opportunity" that she thinks will lead to a dinosaur fossil-finding adventure. Instead, the expedition is a failure. While attempting to get back to her family in England, Abigail instead accidentally ends up on a ship bound for America, so she decides to give this "adventure" thing a second shot.

She has no work lined up, no plan, and hardly any money, so when she sees an ad for an "investigative services assistant," she decides to apply. Her new employer turns out to be the same strange man she met upon first arriving in America: Mr. R.F. Jackaby. 

Jackaby has the ability to see things others can't - there's a whole supernatural side to the world that only he's aware of. Abigail isn't entirely sure how much to believe him, but it's a paying job that seems to offer the excitement she craves. Jackaby, for his part, needs a new assistant after his last one got turned into a duck. Jackaby's first case, after meeting Abigail, involves the murder of a man who, despite having been torn open, doesn't seem to have left behind as much blood as he should have. There are indications that at least one more person will soon die in that same building. Who or what is doing the killing, and can Jackaby and Abigail stop them?

I remember thinking, while reading this, that Abigail reminded me of an older Enola Holmes. Then I double-checked some details in order to write this review and realized that Abigail was missing Enola's level of motivation. Enola, at least, had fairly good reasons for running away from her family. Abigail, on the other hand, had already gotten her parents to agree to pay for a university education for her and was even looking forward to it...up until the point when she learned her archaeologist (?) father was going off on an exciting expedition and had no plans to bring her along. Instead of trying to change his mind or prove herself some other way, she took her parents' money and tried to have her own adventure. She was lucky it just ended disappointingly and not spectacularly badly.

At any rate, the actual Holmesian character in this book was clearly supposed to be Jackaby. There were multiple moments when Abigail mistook things Jackaby figured out from spotting various supernatural beings for clever deductions based on real-world clues. After finishing the book, I'm not sure how I feel about Jackaby. He was there, he was a bit odd, and while I wish he'd been a bit more forthcoming with Abigail about the things he'd figured out, I could imagine Abigail asking questions or not fully believing him until it was too late. I didn't feel like I'd gotten to know him at all. Since I only knew him through Abigail, I suppose that makes sense, but that means I'm ending this with one main character who's such an enigma that I barely have questions about him, and one main character who managed to simultaneously be both observant and not (neither one of us could have known what the murderer was, but I somehow figured out their identity well before Abigail did).

It wasn't a bad book, and I might give this series another chance, but for now I'm not feeling much of an urge to continue on.

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