Jackaby by William Ritter
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on September 16 2014
Genres: paranormal, historical fiction, young adult
Rating: 3 stars
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.
As you probably know, Jackaby has been described as a cross between Sherlock and Doctor Who. Unlike most people, I was somewhat wary of this comparison. Don’t get me wrong, I like Doctor Who and I’ve seen the first two seasons of BBC’s Sherlock (though Elementary is superior in every possible way). The problem that these two shows share is that they are both led by the same misogynistic pig of a showrunner: Steven Moffat. This guy is an absolute tool. He’s responsible for running Doctor Who right into the ground, and he’s a self-congratulating, arrogant, pompous jerk-off. Clearly this is something I feel strongly about.
So! Coming back to Jackaby – I was interested to see how Ritter would put his own spin on the commonalities between Sherlock and Doctor Who and whether he would manage to allay some of the more offensive aspects of the two shows he is clearly pulling inspiration from. And yes I know that both Sherlock (the original stories and the franchise) and Doctor Who existed long before Moffat came around, but upon reading this book it is obvious that BBC Sherlock and Moffat’s era of DW are Ritter’s primary inspirations.
Thankfully, Jackaby is a pretty woman-friendly novel. It didn’t strike me as particularly offensive in any way, which I am grateful for. However, I did find it lacking in a few other ways. Though the main character, Abigail, has her interesting points, I felt that she lacked in depth. She is very trusting of the people around her – she is a young woman all alone on an unfamiliar continent in the late Victorian period and she struck me as incredibly naïve and accepting. Rather than doing any planning, Abigail whirled from event to event without any real agency. The only times she showed any backbone were when she ineffectually threw books at the villain and when she argued with Jackaby at the end of the book. For the most part, she just went with whatever was going on around her without much question. I found her almost instant acceptance and trust in Jackaby very unrealistic. I find it hard to believe that a woman in her position would be so unguarded.
I also found Jackaby trying as a character. He was incredibly inconsistent. It was as though Ritter was attempting to combine Sherlock Holmes and the Doctor into the same character, but it failed completely. His eccentric nature was irritating rather than endearing, and he constantly bounded between the positivity of the Doctor and the misanthropy of Sherlock. It was exhausted and simply didn’t make sense.
The three other principle characters – Charlie Cane, Jenny, and Detective Marlowe – are very hollow. We know very little about any of them beyond their surface characteristics. The semi-romance between Charlie and Abigail is very stilted and hard to support. I have no idea what exactly Abigail liked about Charlie, and vice versa.
Finally, the supernatural elements lacked finesse. The mystery was incredibly obvious (I figured out who the villain was the first time he was introduced) and the mythology just wasn’t that interesting. I did like how magical creatures were everywhere, but I wish there was an explanation for why Jackaby happened to be able to see what no one else could. It struck me as all too convenient that only one person in the entire world had the ability to witness the paranormal creatures of the world.
Though I enjoyed reading this book and didn’t find it grossly appalling, I find that a closer examination is poking holes all over the text and exposing more and more things that just didn’t add up for me. I wouldn’t tell anyone not to read this, but I don’t think I’d purchase it either. It just wasn’t as good as it could have been, and I found it rather disappointing as a whole.