Author: William Ritter
Publication Date: 2014
Abigail Rook has recently arrived in Fiddleham, New England, from her home in England, after a rather convoluted journey through Poland, Germany, and the Ukraine. In 1892, an unchaperoned, single woman could become easy prey for the shadier elements of society. A chance encounter introduces her to a Mr. R.F. Jackaby, a rather eccentric and inquisitive man. After many futile attempts of attaining employment, Abigail finds an advertisement looking for an investigative assistant. Upon her arrival at 926 Augur Lane, she realizes that her prospective employer is the same Mr. Jackaby. He meets her as he is rushing out the door, and she tags along. She learns that the position has been filled, five times previously, with the most immediate predecessor remaining in employment. His job duties have been altered, however, as he is currently a duck.
Jackaby is able to discern that Abigail has recently arrived from the Ukraine through simple deduction; he noticed a domovyk, the Ukrainian breed of the Slavic house spirit nestled in her hat. That observation, combined with the dead man with his chest ripped open in the Emerald Arch Apartments, clues in to Abigail that Jackaby is not your normal detective. He is quick to clarify that he is not an occultist, but rather a man of reason and science who is able to see “truth where others see the illusion.” Abigail’s own ability to notice the ordinary but important details of the scene provides the perfect foil to Jackaby’s other worldly perspective, and thus begins a partnership.
Abigail is thrown into a thrilling and terrifying case of a serial killer. Although the police are convinced that the offender is an ordinary villain, Jackaby is uncertain and fears an inhuman creature is at large. When further investigation proves the wider scope of violence, Jackaby and Abigail are drawn closer to the truth and further into the danger. People and creatures are not what they seem to be and Abigail fears that she may not survive to become Jackaby’s assistant number five.
I was drawn to this book as the flyleaf describes Jackaby as “Doctor Who meets Sherlock.” This is an accurate description but I would also include a Harry Potter or Percy Jackson element as well. The science and reason are perfectly melded with fantasy and mythology. The folklore of the Irish Banshee, the Ukrainain Domovyk, the Scottish Redcap, and many others is woven together into an exciting and enthralling story. It took me a few chapters to decide if I liked the book (which I did), but from the first line, I was intrigued and had to figure out what this story was about.
I found Abigail’s character very interesting; there were definitely allusions to Watson (from Sherlock) and Rose (from Doctor Who), but she definitely is her own person. There was some amount of exposition in the novel but it didn’t drag down the story as the action was fairly fast-paced. I am hopeful that there will be a sequel to the story; the set-up provided for the characters and environment definitely warrants more adventures.
Who might like this book:
Jackaby is advertised for teens and young adults but I think that adults who are interested in Sherlock or Doctor Who will definitely enjoy this. My daughter is a huge fan of both; she is about eight chapters in and quite hooked.
I think this would be a great book to teach at the middle school / early high school age. The combination of supernatural and detective genres, blended with science and mythology, is very appealing to this age group. Throw in some whimsy – his former assistant is a duck (he was a man first) and a ghost helps with the housekeeping – and add a few gruesome and ghoulish descriptions, and you have a book that should keep that attention of even the pickiest of readers. Teachers, take note that there are some reader guides available online at Algonquin Young Readers. If you try it, let me know what your students think!