Thursday, December 2, 2021

Book 312: Jackaby

"The chief inspector did not seem like the sort of man who could ever be overwhelmed by empathy. He would fit right in to the crime adventures in my magazines. He held the little pad like a shield, stoically barricading himself from the human tragedy. I wondered why Jackaby didn’t carry a little notebook. It struck me that a detective should have a little notebook." 

Dates read: April 26-20, 2019

Rating: 6/10

Sometimes I feel like I pigeonhole my own reading. I try to read across genres, but often gravitate towards the serious stuff ("literary" fiction and non-fiction) because I just assume that it's more likely to be something I'll enjoy. And while I do like a lot of the kind of things that tend to win writing prizes, that doesn't mean it's the only sort of thing for me. I am a creature of habit, especially in my reading habits, but breaking out of a slump often reaps rewards.

What if you took a Sherlock Holmes type, made him someone sensitive to magic and occult rather than the "real world", and then gave him a plucky female Watson? Well, you'd get something much like William Ritter's Jackaby. The titular fellow (that's his last name) is the aforementioned supernatural detective. The high-spirited lady sidekick is Abigail Rook, newly arrived in Victorian-era New England from Britain. She's fled the fancy upbringing she had back home, first trying to follow in her archeologist father's footsteps, ultimately winding up in America. She needs a place to stay, which means she needs money, which means she needs a job. But no one in the town of New Fiddleham seems willing to hire her...and that's when she sees an advertisement for a detective's assistant, which leads her to Jackaby.

On her very first day, she and her new employer find themselves a case to investigate: a murder. The police (with whom Jackaby has a rocky relationship) think it probably has a mundane explanation, but the detective thinks otherwise. Abigail's keen eye makes her a valuable asset as the murders continue and the team investigates, and a budding flirtation between her and young policeman Charlie Cane keeps them clued into the official inquiry as well. There are ghosts, werewolves, banshees and more as they race against time to try to stop the killer before the next victim falls.

This isn't anything that could be called literature by any stretch of the imagination. But it's not trying to be. It's trying to be an enjoyable, easy-reading fun supernatural mystery story, and it largely succeeds. The vibe between Jackaby and Rook will be instantly familiar to anyone who's ever watched Doctor Who (and if you do watch and enjoy that show, this book will definitely be right up your alley), and is blessedly free of romantic tension. Abigail's story, while definitely a familiar one, is well-told, and she feels like more than just a stock character due to Ritter's characterization. Indeed, of everyone in the story, it's Jackaby himself who feels the flattest...his aloofness renders him challenging to understand or particularly like. I think it's supposed to come off as being mysterious and Holmesian, but for me it just made him boring.

Another area where this doesn't quite succeed is as an actual mystery. I am legit terrible at figuring out the who-dun-it question in virtually every mystery I've ever read, and I was calling the big twists by about halfway through the narrative. I think it was supposed to be a fun and exciting mystery more than a genuinely suspenseful and thrilling one, but it could have leaned a little more heavily towards the latter without giving too much ground on the former. On a writing-quality level, Ritter's prose (like much in this genre) is unspectacular, though he does have a pretty good ear for dialogue. So while going into this expecting greatness, or even very-good-ness, is likely to set you up for disappointment, if you just want a tasty little snack of a book, something light and engaging, this is for you. I did enjoy reading it, enough to download the second one in the series to read later, so as long as you know what you're getting going in and keep your expectations reasonable, I'd recommend this!

One year ago, I was reading: Can't Even

Two years ago, I was reading: The Sisters of Henry VIII

Three years ago, I was reading: Once Upon A River

Four years ago, I was reading: The Lady Elizabeth

Five years ago, I was reading: Seating Arrangements

Six years ago, I was reading: All The King's Men

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