“But that’s Jackaby in a nutshell. Science and magic, beauty and bedlam, things that ought to be at odds—they just don’t follow the same rules when Jackaby’s involved. For all his faults, he really is a remarkable man.”
—Jackaby, William Ritter
I mentioned wanting to read William Ritter’s Jackaby in my last column, and now—ta da!—I have. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s scary, it’s a complete joy: in other words, I’m extremely happy to report that I loved it just as much as I’d hoped I would.
Jackaby himself is an amalgam of Sherlock Holmes and an 1892-era Dirk Gently. Like Holmes, his focus is on his case, his research, the clues, and on his interest in science, and he’s rarely inclined to explain his train of thought. He’s got more of a heart than Holmes, though, and while he doesn’t bat an eye at gruesome crime scenes, he does take the time to provide comfort to a banshee in need.
Like Dirk Gently, he barrels around town wearing a TERRIBLE hat, a big muffler and a huge coat, and despite the Holmesian attributes (and the gore), the whole book has the sort of warmth and sly humor that I associate with Douglas Adams. Much of that feeling can be chalked up to Jackaby’s home life and to some of the bureaucracy he runs into in dealing with the police, but I don’t want to spoil the details for you.
Abigail Rook, our narrator, is a runaway, an upper class British girl in search of adventure. She didn’t find it in her attempt to become a paleontologist—she just found a lot of dirt and rocks and extremely uncomfortable sleeping arrangements—so she hopped a ship to America and ended up in New Fiddleham, New England. Whereas Jackaby has a talent for seeing things invisible to other humans’ eyes, Abigail has a talent for seeing the everyday details that other people miss. (And in that way, she’s ALSO a Holmesian character!)
Double points to Ritter for NOT creating any romantic tension between Jackaby and Abigail: There is (eventually) mutual admiration, respect and friendship, but not even a hint of flirtation. So refreshing! And double-plus points for his depiction of Chief Inspector Marlowe, who starts out as a classic skeptical stick-in-the-mud, but eventually proves to be intelligent, empathetic and fair-minded. Due to differing worldviews and priorities, though, there is no doubt that he and Jackaby will continue to clash in the future.
There are some mystery novels in which the mysteries are secondary to the characters—I read Martha Grimes because I love spending time with Jury and Plant and Carol-Anne and Marshall Trueblood, not because I look forward to intricate plotting or unforeseeable twists—and Jackaby is one of those: The mystery is secondary to everything else. But it’s good, too! Sure, I identified the killer very on, but due to some MASTERFUL misdirection on Ritter’s part, my reasoning was COMPLETELY WRONG. I had all of the clues in front of me and I was STILL wrong about the whys and the hows. Which, oddly enough, made my Jackaby experience that much more delightful. I am so very much looking forward to their next outing.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.