Jackaby by William Ritter

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Listen to review on KLCC

I was excited to come across “Jackaby.” Not just because it’s an award winning, best-selling YA novel.  Not just because it’s – intriguingly – described by the publisher as Doctor Who meets Sherlock Holmes. But also because it’s always a joy to discover a new local writer. “Jackaby” is the debut novel by Will Ritter, a teacher at Thurston High in Springfield. And, with the release last month of a sequel, “Beastly Bones,” it looks like this is well on its way to becoming a new YA series.

As should be expected from an English teacher, the writing is excellent. Up in the night to care for his infant son, Ritter would lie awake, imagining this fantasy world of banshees, trolls, and shape-shifters. He has certainly recreated that dream-like, middle-of-the-night-feel in the 1892 New England setting.

The book is surprisingly light – and light hearted – for a murder mystery. Our first-person narrator is Abigail Rook, a young woman in search of adventure. When she meet detective R. F. Jackaby, Abigail quickly talks her way into a job as his Watson-like assistant. Jackaby is funnier and quirkier than Sherlock, less cerebral. His primary detective skill is an ability to see and track the supernatural. Abigail is a charming narrator, both cheeky and observant, while also being sufficiently befuddled. And the secondary characters are well developed, including a resident ghost and a human-sized duck.

Though the mystery in the book seemed simplistic, especially when compared to Holmes, I found “Jackaby” a promising beginning and I especially enjoyed the humor. Often the first book of a series is so busy setting up the characters and conventions of a new world that the plot is a little anemic. Perhaps the next book, touted by the Chicago Tribune as a cross between Sherlock and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, will fulfill Ritter’s potential. – Connie Bennett, Library Director

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