Jackaby by William Ritter (2014)

jackabyA charmingly silly detective is at the center of this Victorian-era supernatural mystery.

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages: 229 (for ISBN 9781616203535)

Genre(s) and keywords: mystery, supernatural, light horror

Tone/Style: creepy, formal

Pace: moderate

Topics: fairies, unexplained phenomena, Victorian, detectives, serial killers, monsters

Themes: women’s rights, grief, being oneself

Summary: 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. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Jackaby really is similar to the newer iterations of the Doctor in Doctor Who. That should be enough to hook a lot of readers. He makes for an appealing central figure, eccentric and a little dorky in a charming way. Fans of historical fiction and supernatural fiction should appreciate this. Abigail often laments and defies the constraints put on her as a woman, which may speak to female readers. 

Who won’t like this book?: The book has a distinctly Victorian American feel (albeit with some modern sensibilities, most notably about female empowerment). This may make it difficult for some types of readers. Though Jackaby is creepy, it isn’t quite scary, and thus may disappoint the horror crowd.

Other comments: What does the R.F. in his name stand for? I need to know these things!!  One thing I didn’t expect is that this book is actually quite funny. I was also waiting with baited breath to see if it took an ill-advised turn into romance territory.  It didn’t.

Sequel(s): Beastly Bones (2015), Ghostly Echoes (2016), The Dire King (expected 2017)

Readalikes: Don’t you just love it when a book has a really obvious readalike? Jackaby does: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (first in the Lockwood & Co. series). Definitely recommend it to fans. Some other Victorian-era supernatural mysteries: The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason, Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, and A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray; these four titles skew a bit older and may be best for eighth graders and mature seventh graders.

-Kylie Peters

Image: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20312462-jackaby?ac=1&from_search=true

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