Book Review: JACKABY
By William Ritter
New York: Algonquin Young Readers, 2014. $12.99
Advertised as Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who, William Ritter’s charming, thrilling young adult novel introduces readers to the plucky, young Abigail Rook and the mysterious R.F. Jackaby. Having run away from England and the life of a typical well-brought-up young lady—complete with frilly dresses and suitors chosen by her mother—Abigail finds herself in Victorian-era New England, where, on her own, she takes her chances at chasing adventure and a life outside the societal constrictions of her gender.
It’s not too long after her arrival in the States that she meets the bizarre R. F. Jackaby, who comes across as something of a Mad Hatter type, with a fashion sense to match. Abigail isn’t sure what to make of the strange man who makes a series of deductions about her journey from a quick glance at the dust and grime on her clothing. But he intrigues her, insisting that he is not an occultist—as he puts it “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion—and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage … and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.” Abigail follows him and inevitably becomes his assistant. She’s introduced to all manner of supernatural beings, all of which seem par for the course for the eccentric Jackaby, from a house ghost named Jenny to a strange old woman who keeps busy by catching fish for a troll. While the Sherlock Holmes stories were based in fact rather than supernatural phenomena, the comparison to the BBC’s long-running series, Doctor Who, is apt—Jackaby is both a brilliant mind and a seer, as he calls it. Spirits and mythical creatures are just part of the job description, and he’s got neither the time nor the patience to argue with anyone about whether ghosts, banshees, and trolls are “real.”
Their first case as a crime-solving duo involves searching for a serial killer who police claim is human and not a supernatural being. But Jackaby is convinced the killer is not of this world. Like the great Dr. Watson, Abigail chronicles her trials and tribulations with her new and decidedly odd boss, all the while serving as a surprisingly helpful set of eyes. Just as Holmes is pleased whenever Watson makes his own deduction, Jackaby soon admits that his assistant is well on her way to becoming an apprentice. This is hopefully the first of many cases Jackaby and Rook investigate.