So, I read this book as part of the Great Ongoing 2021 Plan to clear some few books of the massive physical TBR pile. Perhaps I should say “goal” or “intention” or “challenge” … or “wistful hope” … rather than “plan,” as who knows how long I’ll keep taking a book off those shelves and then actually reading them. Anyway, this book, Jackaby, came out in, let me see, 2015, and there’s every chance it’s been on my shelves since at least 2016. I think I picked it up at a World Fantasy Convention or WorldCon or something.
The cover’s got a bit of a horror vibe, it seems to me, and I think that is one reason I felt reluctant to try it BUT also one reason I picked it up now. I think I hoped that I wouldn’t like it and would put it aside promptly. That sort of fast DNF is perfect for clearing books off the TBR pile at a brisk pace. Anyway, no, that didn’t happen. Jackaby is actually not horror. I mean, it’s got some horror vibes, I guess, but it is actually a Sherlock Holmes type of mystery, except packed chock-full of crazy fantasy elements. The pov protagonist, Abigail, is newly arrived in the US. She was looking for a job, Jackaby was advertising for an investigative assistant, and there we go, a story.
It was late January, and New England wore a fresh coat of snow as I stepped along the gangplank to the shore. The city of New Fiddleham glistened in the fading dusk, lamplight playing across the icy buildings that lined the waterfront, turning their brickwork to twinkling diamonds in the dark. In the inky blackness of the Atlantic, the reflected glow of the gaslamps danced and bobbed. I made my way, forward, carrying everything that traveled with me in a single suitcase.
Shortly, Abigail bumps encounters Jackaby, who is a, or possibly the, seer — a person who can see all the crazy things the world is filled with. Ghosts, trolls, banshees, fae, you name it. A seriel killer is rampaging through the city — thus the horror vibe — but, though there’s a certain amount of gore, the story really is not taking itself all that seriously, so the reader doesn’t have to either.
The writing is good — very good. The characters are fine, if a touch stereotypical. That may be intentional, as I think the story is probably meant to be a Sherlock Holmes homage and thus playing with characters suited for that sort of story. The story itself is fine, although a touch predictable. There’s not a lot of depth to this novel, but that may be something that appeals to you from time to time. It did to me. My favorite element is the plethora of crazy details, particularly the house, with the toad and the ghost and the pond and the duck. Particularly the duck. Honestly, if you read a sample and are on the fence about picking up this novel, go ahead and get it so that you can enjoy the duck.
Also, I enjoy the fact that Ch 13 reads in its entirety: By request of my employer, the contents of this chapter have been ommitted. Spoiler: we never do find out what Ch. 13 might have said.
Who would like this book:
If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan and you also like fantasy, this book was probably aimed straight at you, so by all means pick it up and give it a try.
If you want a story with offbeat humorous details, a story you don’t reallly have to take too seriously, again, this might be exactly what you’re looking for.