William Ritter


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Jackaby Summary

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Jackaby (2014), a young adult mystery by William Ritter, it is the first in a series of books that follow the psychic detective R.F. Jackaby and his young apprentice, Abigail, as they investigate supernatural crimes in an alternative version of Victorian New England. Ritter draws heavily on both the book and television versions of Sherlock Holmes in crafting his characters and mysteries.

Abigail Rook is an adventurous but naïve young woman. A native of England, she has traveled throughout Germany and Eastern Europe, and at the beginning of Jackaby, she has just arrived in the city of New Fiddleham in America. Short on cash, she begins looking for a job immediately but is turned away at several shops and restaurants. Eventually, she finds herself at the home of R. F. Jackaby, a detective who is looking for an assistant.

Both Abigail and Jackaby have unusual powers of observation. Jackaby can sense the presence of magic and see supernatural beings that are invisible to the average person, while Abigail, who is trained in archeology and paleontology, has a keen eye for detail, often noticing small things that others miss. On her first day working for Jackaby, Abigail finds herself embroiled in a case of serial murder.

They investigate the first victim, and Abigail’s power of observation proves invaluable. She determines the victim’s living situation and details about his life simply by conducting a quick survey of his apartment. Jackaby, for his part, confirms the involvement of a supernatural being in the murder, though he is initially unable to say exactly what kind of creature it is. Both are puzzled by the discovery that the murder victim has been almost completely drained of blood.

Before they can learn more, the chief detective on the case spots Jackaby and has him ejected from the crime scene. He and Abigail are escorted away by a sympathetic officer, Charlie Cane. The police investigating the case deny the involvement of the supernatural, except for Charlie, who believes Jackaby’s explanation and quickly strikes up a flirtation with Abigail. Police Commissioner Swift is especially adamant about thwarting Jackaby’s investigation.

Meanwhile, Abigail begins to settle in at Jackaby’s home. Jenny, a benevolent ghost who also lives in the house, takes it upon herself to welcome Abigail, helpfully moving furniture and items around to make her more comfortable. Jackaby also introduces her to his former assistant Douglas, who has been transformed into a duck and is also living with Jackaby until they can find a way to make him human again.

The investigation into the serial murders progresses rapidly. Jackaby consults with a woman who appears to be screaming silently. She is actually a banshee, and only Jackaby with his supernatural powers can hear her cry. He deciphers what she is saying, determining the identity of the killer’s next victim.

Charlie attempts to save the next victim and several subsequent ones, but he always arrives too late. As his friendship with Abigail deepens, she begins to suspect that he has a secret. Unbeknownst to her or Jackaby, Charlie is a shapeshifter with the power to transform into a wolf-like creature. He hides his power, working hard to stay in his human form and behave as an upright officer of the law.

Jackaby and Abigail continue to investigate; Jackaby eventually determines that the killer is a malicious fairy creature. However, before he can move to stop the creature, he and Abigail are arrested for meddling in the case. They are released from prison once the Police Chief realizes that Jackaby may be his only hope for catching the criminal. Jackaby secures his help in gathering a large police force and stationing them at the site of the next murder. Charlie is among them, and he shows signs of being under stress because of his inability to save previous victims.

Suddenly, an exhausted Charlie loses control of his magical powers and shapeshifts into his werewolf form. The crowd turns on him, forcing him to flee. Abigail gives chase, following Charlie into the woods and coming face-to-face with Commissioner Swift.

Swift reveals that he committed the murders because he is a redcap, a mythological goblin that soaks its cap in the blood of its victims. Swift attacks Abigail, and Charlie tries to defend her. However, the redcap is much too fast for him and is on the verge of wearing him down when Jackaby arrives and intervenes. Jackaby gets hold of Swift’s red cap and burns it, vanquishing the creature.

Charlie, determining that he cannot return to New Fiddleham now that the people know his true identity, decides to relocate. However, he promises to keep in touch with Abigail. Jackaby also makes Abigail is assistant officially, setting the stage for more books in the series.