ARC Book Review: Jackaby by William Ritter

Posted September 8, 2014 by Debby in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from Book Expo America in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

ARC Book Review: Jackaby by William RitterJackaby by William Ritter
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on September 16th, 2014
Genres: Faeries, Ghosts, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Book Expo America

“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion--and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”

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.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.

2 Stars

I start this review with a very heavy heart. No one is more upset than I am about this dismal rating. Though I would never say this book is bad or the worst, I had fully expected to absolutely adore it and be head over heels for it. I’m immensely disappointed, because this book was just average at best and a cheap knockoff at worst.

To be fair: Jackaby is upfront about what it is – Sherlock meets Doctor Who. That blurb is what caught my attention and the reason why I picked it up, because as my friends probably know, I am a HUGE fan of both series. Both I have watched multiple times. Both are in my top 5 TV series of all time. If this book is like THAT, it’s going to be absolutely perfect for me, right? Wrong. That premise is actually the book’s downfall for me.

My first annoyance that really kept me from becoming immersed in this book was the character, Jackaby, himself. He really is a mash up of Sherlock and the Doctor. But while earlier I may have thought that the characters are rather similar, when meeting Jackaby, I finally understood just how different they are. Sherlock is sullen, apathetic, and a sociopath lacking a filter, interested in the mysteries themselves and not so much the people. The Doctor is more open-minded and, in fact, is fascinated and delighted by the human race. These are character traits which do not go together. Yet, Ritter attempts to make Jackaby both Sherlock and the Doctor. One minute he’ll be talking about how stupid humans are. The next moment, he’ll be fascinated about something Abigail does or fiercely protective of humans. Guys. You can’t really have it both ways. This odd mash up didn’t work for me at all. I couldn’t get used to his character – he was a clone of Sherlock one moment, and a clone of the Doctor the next. He almost seemed schizophrenic – there was no cohesion. It felt like I was reading fanfiction.


This fanfiction-vibe also carried over into the storytelling. Abigail just arrives in New Fiddleham, searches for work, and becomes Watson Clara Jacakby’s assistant. I felt like she was way too accepting of the supernatural elements that Jackaby could supposedly see while no one else could. She hardly even doubts him at all and is just like, “WHEE, ADVENTURE, OH BOY.” I couldn’t connect with her character either. She’s kind of Mary Sue-ish: when on cases she suddenly has bursts of being SUPER OBSERVANT, to a level that is absolutely not normal… and other than that her personality is rather nondescript. She’s more or less just there to serve as the narrator and detail Jackaby’s brilliance, letting the readers insert themselves into the story. Hmm, this kind of sidelining of female supporting characters feels a bit familiar too.

They quickly get mixed up in a case of a supernatural serial killer which really is the mystery solving of Sherlock combined with the strange creatures that only the Doctor Jackaby understands and can hunt down. But the plot failed to ever really surprise me. I mean, it held together as a whole: the paranormal killings piqued my curiosity, there were clues that led to reveals, which kept me reading, and then… mysetery solved. But overall it felt like it was trying to hard to be exactly what this mash up implied, and thus failed to retain any sense of originality at all.

In a certain scene, Jackaby even says he would call “shenanigans” if something happened. I mean really.

I suppose the addition of fairy lore and paranormal creatures was a tiny bit cool, or entertaining at least. The trolls, redcaps, banshees, ghosts, etc… I tried to get sucked into the world, but with all the other comparisons to Doctor Who I just felt like they were a replacement for the various aliens. Not the best replacement either, because the fairy lore we got was basic at best. And Jackaby’s house with its dangerous and cluttered rooms was just the TARDIS. And the household ghost who cares for Clara Abigail, keeps the Doctor Jackaby in check, and does some housekeeping is even called JENNY. I MEAN COME ON.


Overall, it all just feels a bit underdeveloped. Like, it could have been so much more. And with the story being just under 300 pages, there’s just no room to make it come to life and be unique. I mean, both Doctor Who and Sherlock are masterful creations in their own rights, but what keeps me fully engaged, entertained, and impressed is the level of emotions they evoke with their brilliant plot twists and surprises. Not to mention the characters and their sparkling personalities. Jackaby had none of that. I figured out the killer pretty early on, and that was that. It never got me to care.

Summing Up:

I can’t say they didn’t warn me. If you want a book that is a carbon copy mash up of Doctor Who plus Sherlock, definitely get Jackaby. But if you want originality… and if the constant references would annoy you, stay away. I’m sad Jackaby didn’t try at all to take this idea and then do something NEW with it. I mean, take a female supersleuth/paranormal wisewoman. Or give them a new kind of personality. Or really develop the paranormal side, so the world is much more of a fantasy.

I didn’t expect that a book that promised (and to an extent delivered) a combination of two of my favorite things in the world would be such a failure to me. When I managed to keep my rage at the lack of originality at bay, I was mostly just bored by its all around averageness.

GIF it to me straight!


But also…

I am so sad right now.

Recommended To:

I’d like to see the opinion of someone who has never watched Doctor Who or Sherlock actually. I think this book would have better luck with them.

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2 responses to “ARC Book Review: Jackaby by William Ritter

  1. MJ

    Yeah, that was sort of my feeling on this one too. I actually just really started getting into Who, though I’m sort of watching it out of order (basically whatever is on BBC America at the moment and then when it’s not on I’m watching the older episodes on Netflixs). I am a huge fan of Sherlock though, and this book just sort of paled in comparison. It just seemed like it tried too hard. It’s sad when I have to say the best character in the book is a duck.

    • Yeah, the duck was the best part, by far, but even he I felt was a cheap add-in to try to win some giggles. And the quirky helpful nature of his character basically just reminded me of K-9.

      *sigh* If you’ve seen all of Doctor Who, you’ll be struck with the parallels on every. single. page. And that’s just not fucking acceptable.