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.
Before reading Jackaby, I had heard of it being something of a Sherlock retelling but other than an indirect reference to him in a dialogue, there isn’t much Sherlockian about this one. Well, Jackaby is sort of the eccentric side of Sherlock, with his quirks, and Abigail is the intellectual side, the one who has an eye for detail, but since the police in this world is competent, only Jackaby’s Seer skills are mostly called for. The format is like a mystery novel – but the crime is supernatural, and so is the culprit. People have been dying and some blood has been missing from their bodies, and since Jackaby can sense that it is more likely supernatural, Abigail, who becomes his assistant, is dragged into this world that she cannot see or experience completely, but still wants to be a part of.
Jackaby’s (the book, not the character) strong point is how it brings the supernatural into the mundane. It has different creatures that live alongside humans and go unnoticed by everyone, except the Seer, of course, and how weird things that they do also fly under their radar. Like, at Abigail’s first meeting with Jackaby, he deduces where she came from not by guessing it in an investigative way, but simply because she was having some little gremlins on her clothes. Abigail, for her part, is out for adventure, a spirited girl who thinks femininity is a bothersome issue, and has the slight flaw of being ‘not like other girls’. She notices other women being derisive of her appearance, and herself doesn’t like ‘girly’ things, which I think is lazy characterization for a personality like her. Compare this to Stalking Jack the Ripper‘s Audrey, who is interested in vivisection AND all things feminine; I hate to pit two female characters, but Audrey is a good example of a period character who is not interested in traditional gender roles but doesn’t reject her femininity. Abigail, though, has to grow into her own, yet.
The mystery – well, it isn’t unpredictable, but there are certain aspects of it, like the nature of the creature that was a surprise. There was an interesting section of supernatural characters, including a troll, a ghost, and some I wouldn’t name because they would be spoilery. Jackaby maybe a bit eccentric, but he is also quite kind and protective about the world he only sees – despite constantly investigating supernatural crime, he always is considerate and doesn’t rush to conclusions. His character is also a bit ageless (his age is never specified) in a way, and I was wondering if there is a romance, but it is good to know there isn’t. The actual romance, though, felt like it didn’t have any development – more like a first sight thing, so I am not really shipping that either.
Overall, a great start to a supernatural mystery series, and one I am hoping to read further very soon, as the quartet seems to have ended recently.