Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What we're reading: Jackaby

Sorry for the mysterious silence on this blog for five days; "someone" has been sick in bed and not thinking about anything except kleenex and tea. Before getting too sick to read (which, believe me, has to be sick indeed!), however, I did enjoy the book Jackaby, by William Ritter. I remember thinking, when I ordered it for the teen section, "Oh, this looks like fun!" and it was.

It starts out with the arrival on the docks of Miss Abigail Rook, late of England, and now to become a resident of New Fiddleham, New England (I don't remember a state being specified, but it sounds like any typical New England village or town). It's 1892, just to set things in context, which must be done in order to explain Miss Rook. The expectation of her parents was that she would either go to college (her father liked that idea) or she would settle down, get married, and get past her aversion to frills and furbelows (that was her mom's vision), but Abigail wasn't interested in either fate. So she stole the money set aside for her college fund, and set out to make a life.

Seeking gainful employment as soon as possible (the college fund having been quickly depleted), Miss Rook starts making the rounds of the town, and after many failures, she runs into R. F. Jackaby, private detective (of sorts), as he's about to do his thing at a crime scene. Curious and determined, she tags along and immediately gets caught up in the struggle between the police department's need to believe in logical, "regular" reasons for the brutal serial killings in their midst, and Jackaby's more creative theories. And since Abigail has a gift for noticing the kinds of things to which the police and Jackaby are oblivious, she is the perfect foil for them both.

As I said, I enjoyed reading this. I would like to note, however, that once again a publisher eager to capitalize on the fandoms of others has made a colossal mistake in publicizing this as "Sherlock Holmes meets Dr. Who." While I will agree that there is a bit of Holmesian wisdom that issues forth from Jackaby, and also that his proclivity for the weird and his refusal to ignore any possibility, however random, could remind one of the Doctor, that blurb probably brought down the Goodreads ratings by one to three stars by the many teens (and perhaps also adults!) who saw that, fastened onto it, and expected way too much.

It's a fun book. It's well researched, well written, the scene setting was good, the characters are in some cases quite fascinating, and the mystery, solved partly in collaboration with and partly in opposition to the police, was engaging. Why not let it stand on its own two feet and allow the reader to draw the conclusion about what detective it reminds them of?

For me, this book had sort of the same feel as the Lockwood & Co. books, by Jonathan Stroud, but perhaps for an older audience. They are quite different in their details, but they have in common the solving of mysteries by young and odd people, and are set in a world where the paranormal peeks through and says "gotcha!" every once in a while. If you liked those, you might try Jackaby.

The only problem I had with this book was that I figured out who the villain was fairly early, which was disappointing, because then I had to sit around waiting for everyone else to figure it out too. But that's a minor caveat to a positive review! Readable and entertaining.

Also, isn't that a great cover?

If you do like the book, Burbank Public Library also has the sequel, Beastly Bones. Also a nice cover. I do, however, have one more bone to pick with the publisher: Don't you hate it when they release an initial book under a particular name (such as Jackaby), and then all the other books in the series have to have a subtitle saying "A Jackaby Novel" so you know they're related? The publisher obviously knew (since the book clues you in at the end) that this wasn't a stand-alone novel, so why not start out as you mean to go on, and come up with a separate name for the first book from the name of the series? For instance, in the aforementioned Lockwood & Co. series, each book has its own discrete name (The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, The Hollow Boy, etc.), and then all of them have "Lockwood & Co." on them as well, so you know that they go together! Good job there.

And as long as I'm being a nag, could you possible NUMBER the books on the spine, so that those of us who shelve them in libraries and bookstores could not only shelve them in order, but also find the right one for the right reader?

Okay, I'm done. Thank you. Now go read Jackaby and tell me what you think.

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