publication date: 2014
William Ritter took several successful formulas – a Sherlock-esque antisocial detective, a supernatural mystery, a steam punky female narrator – and spliced them together to form Jackaby.
The book followed Abigail Rook as she arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, in 1892. Abigail stumbled upon Jackaby, an eccentric detective of the occult, and began work for him as his assistant. The two quickly (unnervingly quickly) encountered a murder that needed solving. Abigail and Jackaby worked together, along with a police officer, a banshee, and a ghost, to solve the case.
In general, I found the whole book to be quite tedious. Jackaby was almost a straight rip-off of Sherlock Holmes, except he argued for the metaphysical and not against it. As an example, here was Jackaby convincing a police officer to take them further into a crime scene, which I’m pretty sure I’ve seen in every Sherlock ever:
“Wait,” said Charlie, following. “I told the inspector [Marlowe] I would take you out of the building.”
“And so you shall,” Jackaby called over his shoulder. “Expertly, I imagine, and to the letter of the instruction. However, I don’t recall Marlowe giving any specific directions about time, nor about the route we take, so let’s have a quick chat with someone odd, first, shall we? I do love odd. Ah, here we are!”
I also solved the case 1/3 through the book and figured out the red herring about 2/3 of the way through. That’s not me bragging, because I’m not the type to “figure out” books while I read them. That’s me showing how transparent the plot was.
The writing was also tiresome. Ritter attempted to falsely insert drama and interest. Here was a small example, as both Abigail and Jackaby were walking from Jackaby’s office to the post office to work on the case:
My stomach was growling audibly as Jackaby paid the vendor for two steamy meat pies. . . .
“So, what we know thus far,” Jackaby said suddenly, as if the ongoing conversation in his head had bubbled over and simply poured out his mouth, “is our culprit left poor Mr. Bragg with a wicked chest wound and a grieving girlfriend, and he made off with a good deal of the fellow’s blood. . . .”
Ritter was obviously trying to create tension by having what Jackaby did be “sudden,” but I honestly do not know how Jackaby could have started that conversation any less suddenly. Was he supposed to say: “Alright, I’m going to talk about the case now, it’s coming up, just about to talk about it. Are you ready? Here we go. . .”
The unoriginal characters, thin plot, and simplistic writing meant that I had almost no emotional investment in the book.
The book wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Ritter did have some imaginative beasties and fantastical creatures. And there was one part of the book that I actively liked, when Abigail and Jackaby were questioning a woman:
[Hatun said,] “Oh no. been keeping to myself, kept my shawl on all tight all night, didn’t want anyone finding me after what I saw.”
“You were hiding in your shawl?” I asked.
Hatun gave the pale blue knit shawl around her shoulders an affectionate tug. “Only street folk can see me in this, beggars and homeless, like. Never had much cause to watch out for them – they’re good souls, the most of ‘em. For everyone else – well, it doesn’t make me invisible or nothing, just impossible to notice.” She smiled proudly.
Jackaby and I exchanged glances.
“Erm, I found you,” said my colleague.
Hatun gave him a knowing wink. “You don’t exactly follow the rules when it comes to finding things, though, now do you, Detective?”
I thought that passage was an effective commentary on how we can overlook the homeless and downtrodden.
If someone was intensely interested in this genre, I would recommend this book, because it followed the mold closely. For the rest of us, I thought the book had:
2/6: many problems
Other reviews of the book: