Thursday, September 18, 2014


by William Ritter
(September 16, 2014, Algonquin Young Readers)

 Book Description:

Abigail Rook has always wanted to go on an adventure. Instead of going to university in her native England, she runs away with her tuition in search of it. After a wandering for a year, she finds herself in New Fiddleham, New England, and looking for work. She falls in with Jackaby, a detective who specializes in “supernatural phenomena”. Soon, she’s swept up in a mysterious series of murders. The police force may believe that the culprit is human, but Jackaby is convinced that it’s a monster, and that it’s still on the hunt for new prey…


Jackaby is an interesting twist on the traditional Sherlockian mystery, with elements of the supernatural sprinkled liberally throughout. The strongest point of this novel is, I think, the prose. Written in flowing, period-appropriate first-person, it’s evocative even as it remains streamlined, and delivers information with a measured economy that’s just great.

The character of Jackaby, while lacking in the gravitas of his famous counterpart, is a likeable, engaging character. His more humane moments can be quite heartwarming, and his restrained nature makes for a fascinating protagonist. The plot isn’t impressive overall, but does contain some good twists that I didn’t see coming. 

There are also some interesting ideas here that may pique readers’ interest in forthcoming volumes. The concept of “the Seer”, for example, is excellent and it’s elevated further by its uniqueness (literally, as there can only be one “Seer” at a time). The ending, although umimpressive in itself, wraps things up nicely, and prepares readers well for coming installments.


I thought that the actual mystery of this novel was unimpressive. This is owing partially to the fact the not enough information is given to reader, so they can’t attempt to solve it with Jackaby and Abigail, but it’s also caused by lackadaisical delivery. You never get the feeling that much is at stake one way or the other. This also applies to the more supernatural elements of the story, which are treated so monotonously that they become boring.

The setting of New Fiddleham is also a problem.  It’s unremarkable, bordering on drab, and bogged down interest in the mystery for me.

In spite of one or two good twists, I disliked the fact that my favorite twist in the novel was actually not as it seemed – to its detriment (I can’t tell you why, unfortunately). 

I found that this novel contained some irritating lapses in logic. Charlie and Abigail, for example, were far too willing to believe in the myriad creatures Jackaby claims exists (banshees, brownies, fairies, ghost, etc.). This is doubly implausible because there was not a single piece of evidence that was genuinely incontrovertible. Even if his evidence was convincing to their mind, why are they not more disconcerted at finding out that all these things exist? They simply take them as a matter of course.

I also felt that too much happened or was discovered after Abigail’s appearance. For example, why was it that no one made the connection between these very obviously similar murders before? I understand that most of these killings took place in other jurisdictions, but I think brutal murders of this kind would be pretty big news, and Jackaby would certainly keep up with this kind of thing. Also, I find it hard to believe that in spite of help on other cases, Barlowe only officially asks for Jackaby help when Abigail becomes his assistant. 

Actually, Abigail herself is unlikeable. She considers herself quite sensible and intelligent (as do others), yet there’s very little by way of evidence to prove it. Her parents had just become convinced that she should go to university, and instead of proving to them that deserves to do so by genuinely preparing herself for a potential career, she absconds with their money in search of “adventure”. What does this prove other than she’s rash and illogical? I also find she’s unjustifiably prideful, especially in relation to her parents. (She hasn’t given them a proper way of communicating with her. For all she’s knows, they might be dead!) At one point, she even refuses to agree with rational advice on principle!  

Unfortunately, the ending was also a letdown. A very unimpressive antagonist and a lack of genuine danger made it lackluster and disappointing, especially considering the lead-up to the climax.


Although excellently written, Jackaby’s potentially interesting premise is wasted through an unlikeable narrator, deficient delivery, an unimpressive mystery, and irritating lapses in logic.

Rating: (5.5/10)

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