Title: Beastly Bones (2014)
Author: William Ritter
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Read: 21st – 25th May 2019
Genre: YA fantasy; historical; mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Some girls work in shops or sell flowers. Some girls find husbands and play house. I assist a mad detective in investigating unexplained phenomena. My name is Abigail Rook, and this is what I do. In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, are called upon to investigate the supernatural. First vicious shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens, and a day later, their owner is found murdered. Then in nearby Gad’s Valley, bones from a recent dig mysteriously go missing, and an unidentifiable beast starts attacking animals and people, leaving mangled bodies behind. Charlie calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt–for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.” (Synopsis from publisher)
As you may have guessed from my review of the first book, Jackaby, this Sherlock Holmes with a paranormal twist narrative is very fun and very accessible. It’s easy to fall into the story and like the characters, so I was keen to continue on with the series, especially since it is available via Scribd. I listened to this second outing with Miss Rook and Detective Jackaby through the medium of audiobooks and I would recommend this, if you can get your hands on it; as the books are accounts of Abigail’s first-person recollections of her cases with her employer, hearing them told by her adds an extra dimension to the story as the narrator is good at adding sarcastic or glib inflection where needed in the course of the narrative. The humour in the book worked especially well in audiobook form, often at Jackaby’s expense as he flouts a social norm or says ridiculous things in such a matter-of-fact way that it wrong-foots whoever he is dealing with at the time.
” ‘Follow my lead, Miss Rook,’ Jackaby said, rapping on the ornately trimmed door to 1206 Campbell Street. Were my employer a standard private investigator, those might have been simple instructions, but in the time I’ve been his assistant, I’ve found very little about Jackaby to be standard. Following his lead tends to call for a somewhat flexible relationship with reality.”
Although I still don’t feel like I have enough of an insight into Jackaby’s character or motivations, I do feel like I understand Abigail’s character a lot more thanks to Beastly Bones. This second book really allowed her to grow and come into her own as a character as the bulk of the narrative followed her actively being involved with the case at hand in Gad’s Valley. Her penchant for archaeology and palaeontology, which was mentioned in an off-hand comment in the previous book, now comes to the fore and we learn a lot more about her and her family background because of it. Her father is famous in the field, and this helps to showcase Abigail’s interest in a similarly scientific field which is ordinarily dominated by men. It was refreshing too to see another woman, a reporter named Nellie, also poking her nose around the strange goings-on in Gad’s Valley, being unapologetically knowledgable and capable in a field otherwise dominated by her masculine counterparts. Of course, this is a Jackaby story, so the truth behind the case of dinosaur bones going missing from a dig site is rarely that simple and ends up having a fantastical element to it all, but it was good to see the part of the story that was rooted in reality challenge some of the status quo of the late nineteenth-century society it operated within.
“I might be better prepared to slay dragons, I decided, than to flirt with boys.“
Something I find refreshing about what I have read of the Jackaby series so far is that there isn’t; so much of a hint of romance between the two leads. In a story in which it would be so convenient to develop a romantic relationship, Ritter eschews expectations and instead develops a partnership and a friendship that grows as the story progresses, and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the rest of the books in the series. The romantic subplot that is in the book never becomes the focus of the story and the love (and occasional flirting) that does seem to be blooming between two of the characters is particularly sweet and seems natural rather than shoehorned into the narrative for the sake of it. Similarly, I am sensing a ~something~ between Jackaby and a certain female and I am kind of all about it, if that ship does end up sailing in the books that follow. One of the sweetest moments for me in the book was when Jackaby gave some rather stellar life and romantic advice to Abigail in the most unassuming way, thereby showing how comfortable the both of them have become in each other’s company in a personal, as well as professional, capacity.
“The only paths you can’t travel are the ones you block yourself–so don’t let the fear of failure stop you from trying in the first place.“
In conclusion, I think Beastly Bones is a stellar follow-up to Jackaby and has successfully developed many threads of bigger narratives relating to particularly Jenny the ghost’s past that I am sure will form the basis of the next books in the series. This was a book full of science, adventure, mystery, glib humour, and DRAGONS, and I sincerely enjoyed that weird and wacky combination. It was wonderful to see the characters introduced in the first adventure of Jackaby really come into their own in this book; I hope William Ritter continues to do so in Ghostly Echoes and The Dire King.
“The greatest figures in history are never the ones who avoid failure, but those who march chin-up through countless failures, one after the next, until they come upon the occasional victory.”