Review Blog

Jun 29 2015

Jackaby by William Ritter

cover image

Algonquin, 2014. ISBN 9781616202535
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended, Crime, Detection, Supernatural, Historical novel. When seventeen year old Abigail Rook lands at the port of New Fiddleham in New England in 1892, she must look for lodgings and then work to support herself. Work comes first as she falls into the wake of one R F Jackaby, a detective who does not dismiss the supernatural in his musings. She answers his advertisement for an assistant, and she goes with him to investigate the mysterious and bloody death of a man at a boarding house. But he includes many things in his investigations, laughed at by the police detective, Marlowe and his assistant, Crane, who like Inspector Lestrade in some of the Sherlock Holmes stories, provide a play it by the rules foil to Jackaby's sleuthing. A second even more bloody death sees the pair imprisoned by Marlowe, and while incarcerated they hear the banshee's cries, just as the two men did before their deaths the previous nights.
This is a wonderful read, set brilliantly in the New England area of the USA at the end of the nineteenth century, evoking the delightful Jackaby with his Sherlock Holmes style of investigation, looking closely at clues unseen by others, but with a does of other worldly things reminiscent of fantasy stories. At his house is a duck, the unfortunate Douglas, his previous assistant, and a ghost, the wonderful Jenny who keeps Abigail informed. The house is an eclectic clutter of things, deliciously described, enticing the reader to look into every corner of each of the rooms. But beware those who stare at the frog, because this initiates a smell which causes the whole house to be evacuated.
I read this with relish, laughing at the black humour, revelling in the blood and possibilities of other worldly creatures, admiring the wonderful characters and marvelling at the setting. And I am pleased to see that Jackaby has a sequel, Beastly bones.
With a chapter ending, 'Across town Mr Henderson - the man who had head the banshee's silent scream spent the evening dying. To be more accurate, he spent a brief portion of the evening dying, and the rest of it being dead,' who could resist the call to read on.
Fran Knight

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