Jackaby sighed and drew to a stop as we reached the corner of another cobbled street. He turned and looked at me with pursed lips. “Let’s see,” he said at last. “I observed you were recently from the Ukraine. A young domovyk has nestled in the brim of your hat. More recently, you seem to have picked up a Klabautermann, a kind of German kobold attracted to minerals. Most fairy creatures can’t touch the stuff. That’s probably why your poor domovyk nestled in so deep.”
Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.
Author: William Ritter
Category: Young Adult
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Format: NetGalley DRC
Length: 305 pages
Series or Standalone: Standalone (as of now)
POV: 1st Person
Reviewer: Nick Morgan
Where I Got It: A digital ARC from NetGalley. I’ve been looking for good paranormal YA similar to The Monstrumologist, and this seemed like it fit the bill. Calling it “Doctor Who meets Sherlock” is a bit of a big fat fib, and sort of does a disservice to the book.
I’m a bit on the fence about this book. The WhoLock comparison had my hopes higher than they might have been otherwise. I don’t think the book really lives up to that. Rather, it’s a combination of some of the more common cliches of the mystery and weird/paranormal genres. Not necessarily in a bad way, but I think the WhoLock claim stems from a bit of a misrepresentation. It’s not that it’s incredibly similar to WhoLock, it’s that they both draw from the same venerable traditions.
However, this book is like WhoLock in that it relies strongly on its characters to carry the story. And they do a pretty good job. Abigail Rook, our teen girl protag is a very nice female character. I won’t insult her by calling her “feisty”. Instead, she’s strong-willed and very down-to-earth. She’s a great balance for Jackaby’s eccentricity, and it’s quite believable that he finds her useful to counter some of his absent-mindedness. But rather than a Doctor/Companion or Holmes/Watson relationship, it’s just a general funny guy/straight man buddy cop relationship. THen we have a certain police officer. I liked his character quite a bit, although it sometimes seemed a little to convenient how he assisted the main characters in moving the plot along. There’s no major romance angle in this book, but he and Abigail do have a certain chemistry.
The villain in the book is quite fun, as well. And he has a reasonable motivation for his actions. Further, for the first half of the book, you’d never suspect him, although somewhere aaround the halfway mark I did figure him out, and I was then stuck with that annoying feeling of knowing the answer while the characters are still struggling along. A really good mystery can put that feeling off without it seeming like the author used cheap tricks. Jackaby is a good mystery certainly, but not a really good mystery by that criterion.
One the thing the author does quite well is mimic the atmosphere of an early Holmes or Christie mystery. I loved the sort of foggy pre-electricity feeling I got from the book. It’s more of an homage than a cliche-fest in my mind. Definitely the best part of the book. The paranormal elements play right into it, and you almost get a sort of Jack the Ripper feel from this novel. In a very positive way. All the paranormal elements are quite well-researched.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It’s not a literary masterpiece, but it’s a good book that both adults, middle-grade readers, and young adult readers will definitely appreciate. Assuming the like the genre, of course. (I interpret this book as YA, but it might be considered upper MG.)
Conclusion: 77/100 (A nice read)
Premise: 7/10 (Seen it before, but handled okay)
Plot: 8/10 (Not bad)
Setting: 9/10 (The old-time small town atmosphere was great)
Main Character: 8/10 (Not a stand-out character, but I really liked her spunk)
World-building 8/10 (Really felt a sense of the town and the world around it)
Mystery: 7/10 (I figured out the culprit early, only Jackaby could guess the type of creature)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Loved the characters Jackaby collects around him)
Writing: 7/10 (Not bad, but not brilliant)
Themes: 8/10 (Well-done)
Resolution: 7/10 (Made sense, but a bit too neat)
Buy Or Borrow: Worth buying if you like the genre, otherwise it might not hurt to borrow it from the library
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey