The short version: Jackaby is a new-adult, 1892 version of Elementary with a detective that can see the ghosties and beasties of the supernatural world. Vaguely feminist, it’s sure to please most who enjoy the genre. I, who do not seek the genre out, still enjoyed it.
The long version: Ever since Jo from Little Women, I’ve had a fondness for the plucky heroine. Miss Abigail Rook delivers. Born into an educated and well-to-do family, she took her college money and joined a paleontology dig while her parents were away traveling. When that didn’t pan out, she (albeit accidentally) went to the States. Making the best of her adventure, she looks for work and ends up working as Jackaby’s assistant. Their first case is a brutally murdered journalist, and the banshee neighbor’s wails hint that someone else will soon follow.
At the risk of damning it with faint praise, this stood out for being enjoyable and inoffensive. There are no shortage of fantasy type books in this genre and age-range, but by staying with Abigail’s first-person point-of-view, the narrative is more coherent. Like the show Elementary, Jackaby is a less socially-competent Sherlock, while Abigail proves more adept at mundane interactions.
“‘I’ve got it,’ I announced. ‘You’re a dectective, aren’t you?’ The man’s eyes stopped darting and locked with mine again. I knew I was onto him this time. ‘Yes, you’re like whtshisname, aren’t you? The one who consults for Scotland Yard in those stories, right? So what was it? Let me guess, you smelled salt water on my coat, and I’ve got some peculiar shade of clay caked on my dress or something like that?”
There’s mild humor throughout, both situational (a frog that absolutely does not like being stared at) and verbal.
“‘We are not with the police department,’ said Jackaby. He pulled out a thin leather satchel and laid it on the table.
‘Well,’ said Charlie, ‘I am.’
‘We are not with the police department, except for those of us who are,’ Jackaby revised.”
It’s quite possible that readers of historical fiction may find it full of inaccuracies for 1892 in speech and behavior. I enjoyed it, and as I dislike the historical genre as a rule, my assumption is that it probably doesn’t meet those standards. Fine by me. There is a formality to her internal voice that differentiates it pleasantly from a more modern UF.
The dual plots of the mystery and Abagail’s adjustment her new employment are the primary focus of the story, and there isn’t much that detracts. They move quickly, although some of the interludes in Jackaby’s odd townhouse slow down and allow for more of the personal development angle.
Overall, I’d say this was a nice orange sherbet of a read, a pleasant palate-cleanser.