Thursday, March 12, 2015

REVIEW: Jackaby by William Ritter 

by William Ritter
4 stars

"Doctor Who meets Sherlock" proudly proclaims the cover flap blurb. That's not something a Whovian and Sherlockian can just ignore. At the very least, I had to make sure it lived up to its lofty expectations.

In the first chapter, with Jackaby's introduction, I groaned. Just another Sherlock imitation. I have enough of those in my life right now, thank you very much. By chapter two, I realized Ritter took Jackaby in a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DIRECTION.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock? Try Doctor Who meets Sherlock meets a grown-up and frankly terrifying Spiderwick Chronicles, and you're a little closer to the mark.

Abigail Rook is newly arrived in New England and, looking for a life of adventure, answers an advertisement to become the assistant of one R. F. Jackaby, basically a private investigator specializing in Unexplained Phenomena, who is just about to wade knee-deep into a murder most foul.

Now it warns you right up front that this story has a dose of the macabre and it does. There's blood. The world and ambiance is a cross between Victorian and the Brothers Grimm, which totally worked for me. There's a slew of quirky and interesting characters, something I always love to see, and I especially loved Inspector Marlowe, perpetually grumpy chief of police, and justice hound Charlie Cane. The world has great potential, with dark folklore and a friendly ghost or two. Ritter seems to have drawn no specific line on what kind of fantasy to include, so all possibilities seem fair game at this point.

I found Jackaby to be a very interesting character. He has the unexplained ability to see many extraordinary things that no one else can, but he's very logical, scientifically inclined, and fact oriented. Those qualities should be at odds with each other, but they meshed wonderfully. He's also a bit absorbed in his own thoughts and absent-minded and has some kind of delicious secret back story yet to be revealed. By delicious, I mean obviously scarring and heart-wrenching and my inner fangirl demands to know the cause at all costs.

Which brings us to my pet peeve about this story. The one thing here that truly irked me was the fact that Jackaby made no effort to prepare Abigail for the danger they could potentially encounter. There was no training, or crash course Mythos 101, or even a heads-up of what to expect at any point of the book. Granted, she's thrust straight into the mystery, but they had downtime. Jackaby could have sent her off with a stack of books to research some of the things most people don't believe exist. This peeve might not have bothered me so much if Jackaby didn't become increasingly concerned about her safety, and his failure to prevent ...incidents with some potential assistants of the recent past. At one point he tries to demote her to an office clerk and keep her off the case (which doesn't work. at all.) but he never considers actually arming her with any skills or knowledge that might save her life.

This peeve of mine could turn out to be a character flaw of Jackaby's, an absent-minded and case-driven detective, in which case I'm all for it. Character development for the world! But I am a little concerned that none of his allies pointed it out to him as a bad idea, or decided to give Abigail some words of wisdom.

I'm probably exacerbating this peeve, and don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed this book. It was an interesting mix of murder mystery and folk lore and I can't wait to read the next one. I'm just crossing my fingers that Abigail will start learning things, rather than stumbling into them.

The reason this book didn't get 5 stars was three-fold. The aforementioned pet peeve, but also that I did find myself skimming through sections of description (read as, 'impatient reader') and I felt that some of the mystery elements took a little too long for the characters to get to.

On the whole, this was an entertaining and gripping read. I'm looking forward to the sequel due out this fall, diving deeper into Jackaby's world, and also getting that back story!

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