Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult

Ghostly Echoes (Jackaby #3)

Cover image for Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter by William Ritter

ISBN 978-1-61620-579-9

“Questions are to the clever mind as coal is to the stoker. I will worry more when we run out of them.”

A decade ago, Jenny Cavanaugh was murdered at 926 Augur Lane, currently the abode of one R.F. Jackaby, and his assistant, Miss Abigail Rook. Jenny still cannot remember who killed her, and efforts to help her remember only push her into ghostly echoes that degrade her soul. But she has asked Jackaby and Abigail to take up the case, even knowing that getting her answers may untether her from the mortal world, her unfinished business finally complete. However, the Seer and his assistant are soon called in on another case. Two scientists have disappeared, and the murder of Mrs. McCaffery bears an eerie resemblance to Jenny’s own death. Either a copycat has emerged, or her killer is still stalking New Fiddleham.

Three volumes into the series, the overarching plot is starting to take shape. The mysterious pale man who has been following Abigail finally steps out of the shadows, only to reveal that he is a small part of a much bigger plan. He also seems to know much more about Jackaby’s past than even his closest confidants. As they investigate Jenny’s murder, it becomes apparent that her death has some connection to the deeper mystery of New Fiddleham. While the action is less fast paced than in Jackaby or Beastly Bones, this makes room for important character development, as we finally learn how Jackaby came to be the Seer.

Ghostly Echoes also sees the introduction of Lydia Lee, who is rescued from a beating in a back alley by Jackaby and Abigail. A tall, broad shouldered woman with a low voice, she is attacked after two men who solicit her services realize that she is not quite what they expected. Interestingly, while Abigail sees what the two men saw, Jackaby, with the Sight, seems to see Lydia entirely as herself. Unfortunately, Lydia has little role to play in the story, and seems to have been introduced more as an object lesson than as a fully realized character. But of course, since this is a series, it is possible that Ritter is bringing her on-stage now because she has a bigger role to play in the fourth and final volume of the series.

Ghostly Echoes leaves the reader with as many questions as answers. The murder of Jenny Cavanaugh is solved, but in uncovering the answers, Jackaby and Abigail have meddled with dark forces that do not willingly suffer interference with their plans. The sense of resolution is incomplete, because it is evident that there is a much larger battle on the horizon.


Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween readers! The book’o’lantern tradition continues here at Required Reading. Only this year it is…a Jackaby-lantern, based on the covers of Jackaby and Beastly Bones by William Ritter.

Collage of Jackaby pumpkin


This is my fourth year of book themed pumpkins, so here’s a collage of some of my previous efforts:



Here are some spooky or supernatural reads for the season. Happy Halloween!

Cover image of Jackaby by William Ritter Jackaby by William Ritter

Beastly Bones by William Ritter

Gideon by Alex Gordon

Serpentine by Cindy Pon

Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

Beastly Bones (Jackaby #2)

Cover image for Jackaby by William Ritterby William Ritter

ISBN 978-1-61620-354-2

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2015. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

“Give me some credit. You don’t get far in my game with your eyes closed. I get it—who doesn’t like a man in uniform? But trust me, men are never worth it. Behind every great man is a woman who gave up on greatness and tied herself into an apron. Romance is for saps, Abbie. You’re sharp and you’ve got pluck. Don’t waste it.”

Abigail Rook and her employer, the supernatural detective R.F. Jackaby have just finished tracking down a litter of carnivorous shape-shifters that have been terrorizing New Fiddleham when they are summoned to consult on a theft out in Gad’s Valley. Abigail finds herself back in her element when the missing object turns out to be a tooth that was stolen from a recently uncovered fossil on a small farm. However, it seems that there is more than a thief on the loose in Gad’s Valley; the farmer’s wife has been murdered, and a beast no one has seen is terrorizing the local livestock. Assisted by Detective Charlie Cane and big game hunter Hank Hudson, Abigail and Jackaby set out to find the fossil, discover the murderer, and subdue the beast.

In a deft mix of mystery, humour, and historical fantasy, William Ritter follows up on Jackaby with another supernatural whodunit set in New Fiddleham and its environs. Abigail is beginning to settle in as Jackaby’s assistant when the news that fossils have been discovered in Gad’s Valley leaves her longing for her former career as an amateur paleontologist. Fortunately, the suspicious theft of a portion of the skeleton provides the perfect opportunity for her and Jackaby to investigate what turns out to be an extremely twisty and amorphous case that blends science and mythology.

Jackaby and Abigail make a great team, and while some fans are longing for the protagonists to kiss already, the fact that there is no romance, unrequited or otherwise, between them is extremely refreshing. Last year’s buzz for Jackaby touted the book as “Doctor Who meets Sherlock,” but fortunately Abigail’s relationship with her employer is more Watson to his Sherlock than companion to the Doctor. That isn’t to say, however, that there is no romantic interest in Beastly Bones. The case in Gad’s Valley brings Abigail and Jackaby back into contact with Charlie Cane, the shapeshifting police officer who had to flee New Fiddleham after his secret was exposed. However, Abigail is forced to consider what she really wants when an intrepid female reporter advises her that no career-minded woman can hope to succeed if she ties herself to a man.

In addition the missing fossil at the centre of Beastly Bones, there is evidence of a larger plot taking shape that will overarch the series. A shadowy villain appears on the periphery of the story, and the events in Gad’s Valley seem to be part of some larger design. This mysterious figure also seems to have some connection to the murder of Jenny Cavanaugh, 926 Augur Lane’s resident ghost, which volume three seems primed to investigate.


Cover image for Serpentine by Cindy Pon You might also like Serpentine by Cindy Pon

Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult


Cover image of Jackaby by William Ritterby William Ritter

ISBN 978-1-61620-353-5

“Monsters are easy, Miss Rook. They’re monsters. But a monster in a suit? That’s basically just a wicked man, and a wicked man is a more dangerous thing by far.”

Boarding school runaway Abigail Rook steps off the Lady Charlotte onto the docks of New Fiddleham with one suitcase to her name, and no job prospects to speak of. In the New England of 1892, there is not much in the way of respectable employment for unaccompanied seventeen-year-old girls. Fortunately for Abigail, there is nothing respectable about R.F. Jackaby, private investigator of supernatural crimes. When Abigail answers his advertisement for an assistant, she finds herself pulled into the investigation of a series of grisly murders. Though the police steadfastly insist on a mundane explanation, Jackaby suspects something more unusual is afoot, but his lack of official standing hampers the investigation.  Given Jackaby’s preternatural preoccupations, Abigail’s grounded perspective and eye for detail prove invaluable as they attempt to track the killer with the surreptitious assistance of Junior Detective Charlie Cane.

In the fall of 2014, Jackaby garnered a lot of buzz thanks to publicists characterizing this title as “Doctor Who meets Sherlock,” a bold claim that appears right on the cover flap of the book. In the Doctor Who meets Sherlock schema, Abigail is simultaneously the Doctor’s companion, and Sherlock’s Watson, creating a written record of her first case with Jackaby. Jackaby certainly has the Doctor’s frenzied energy, and Sherlock’s lack of interest in social graces. He even has a signature chapeau, though his lumpy woolen toque is decidedly less dashing than a deer stalker. Of course, William Ritter didn’t set out to write Wholock, though the story does slyly acknowledge its debt to Arthur Conan Doyle when Abigail asks “you’re like whatshisname, aren’t you?” when Jackaby attempts to deduce where she came from. Despite the aptness of the publicist’s comparison, Jackaby ultimately has to stand on its own after name-checking two big series that are bound to set high expectations among fans.

Jackaby is set in the late nineteenth century, but the historical setting is less than fully realized, mostly providing a largely inconsequential backdrop. The period setting is actually most relevant in terms of the development of Abigail’s character, since she has run away from school and the expectations foisted in her by her gender. Despite a clear intent towards a feminist bent with Abigail’s independent character, Jackaby falls into one of the same traps that frequently ensnares Doctor Who. Any time Abigail is alone with either of the two significant female supporting characters—Jenny and Hatun—it is almost certainly to discuss Jackaby. As in Doctor Who, this makes for a good device for exposing the character of the mysterious Jackaby, but leaves much to be desired in terms of the development of relationships between, and characterization of, female characters.

Fast-paced and plot-driven, Jackaby feels very much like a pilot episode in that the focus is on setting up the conceit and then following the case-of-the-week. The characters have only barely begun to develop, and there is much we still don’t know about them. The mystery isn’t overly difficult, but Jackaby’s charm and witty banter are quite capable of carrying the story along between times. And although the historical setting plays little role, Jackaby’s extraordinary house at 926 Augur Lane has all the character and detail that New Fiddleham lacks. Fortunately, Jackaby is intended to begin a series rather than stand alone, and volume two, Beastly Bones, is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2015.


Cover image for A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia GrayYou might also like A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray