Review | Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter


ghostlyTitleGhostly Echoes (2016)
Author: William Ritter
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Read: 26th – 27th June 2019
Genre: YA fantasy; historical; mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghostly lady of 926 Augur Lane, has enlisted the services of her detective-agency tenants to solve a decade-old murder— her own. Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, dive into the cold case, starting with a search for Jenny’s fiancé, who went missing the night she died. But when a new, gruesome murder closely mirrors the events of ten years prior, Abigail and Jackaby realize that Jenny’s case isn’t so cold after all. Soon Abigail’s race to unravel the mystery leads her down to the mythical underworld and deep into her colleagues’ grim histories to battle the most deadly foe she has ever faced..” (Synopsis from publisher)

After mentioning a lot in my reviews of the previous books Jackaby and Beastly Bones that I wanted to learn more about Jackaby’s past, William Ritter finally delivered in this third book. Along with learning a lot about the life (and death) of the house’s resident ghost Jenny Cavanaugh whilst she tries to assert her place (and materiality) in the world, we also learn a lot more about the detective’s backstory, particularly his coming into his Seer powers. The side-story of his childhood friend Eleanor was tragic on all counts and explained so much about how his character can be, at once, brutal and blunt but also incredibly open-minded and sympathetic to some of the supernatural factions dwelling in New Fiddleham. Having this much-needed insight into his backstory helped a lot to show his character’s growth and personality and it certainly made his relationship with the characters around him grow too. After the solid grounding of the first two books, I really felt like this third one was when I realised I was truly invested in the characters and their individual storylines outside of the immediate plot-line of the paranormal adventures they have.

“My brick. My house. My whole wide world.”

Similarly, it seems as though each book in the Jackaby series likes to introduce a new faction of paranormal beasties that were previously unseen, or at least unmentioned, in the previous books. In this outing of detective Jackaby and Abigail Rook we encounter vampires, hinkypunks, the seelie and unseelie courts, and even venture to the mythological underworld and meet the ferryman Charon. Throughout this section of the book Abigail brushes with Norse mythology (Álfheimr, Odin), Greek mythology (Charon, Orpheus, Hades), and Welsh mythology (Annwn), along with many others I’m sure I missed along the way! This blending of the various mythological pantheons with folklore and paranormal is an aspect of this book that I adored, especially when Abigail dared to ask Charon “who was right” with their mythology – as Charon notes, everyone was, in some way.

“This city is alive. It has a soul, and that soul is a glorious mess of beliefs and cultures all swirling together into something precious and strange and new.”

This is also the volume that I felt lived up to the comp of Sherlock Holmes meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It is revealed during this book that Jackaby keeps hidden journal of his exploits; as there is only one Slayer *cough* sorry Seer at a time in the world, with the power literally passing onto another at the moment of death, it makes sense that having a journal able to be passed down to the successor would be beneficial. The idea of him chronicling his cases is also very Sherlock Holmes and whilst the books so far have been “seen” through his assistant Abigail’s eyes (a la Dr Watson), it is now interesting to consider the wider idea of chronicling and how stories are written down and memorialised for the proverbial ages.

“There is something humbling about knowing that an entity capable of moving mountains and reshaping continents still takes the time to tend to the smallest patch of dirt. Little things matter. Footsteps matter.

Despite all the paranormal and supernatural elements of this story, it’s also grounded in universal issues and struggles. Jackaby and Abigail interrupt a group of people abusing someone in the street, someone who identifies as a woman and presents as a woman, but was born male. Both of them are fiercely protective of her instantly and Jackaby derides the attackers for bullying the woman. Seeing this understanding and moral side of Jackaby was nice, as I think it lightens some of the detached persona he otherwise seems to exude. Similarly, the backstory we learn regarding Jenny Cavanaugh and her fiancé Henry Carson delves deeper into New Fiddleham’s history and its enterprising and entrepreneurial spirit – of course, this is a Jackaby book so this ends up having a more sinister and supernatural element than it first seems, and I was fully engrossed in learning more of this. Jenny has always been a character I’ve enjoyed as she drifted in and out of the story in Augur Lane, but it’s nice to see a large portion of the story devoted to her specifically.

“It is the ugliest aspect of human nature that we fear what is most different from ourselves with such violent contempt.

In conclusion, Jenny’s backstory, which is embroiled in the spirit of invention and technological progress, is so rooted in New Fiddleham’s history that it’s nice to feel like this weird and wonderful mix of 19th-century New England and paranormal otherworld is finally blended to the point that I can fully suspend disbelief and truly appreciate the adventures of Detective Jackaby and his motley crew of friends (and foes). The final book, The Dire King, should prove to be an incredible finale now that William Ritter has spent three books slowly building up each of his characters, their backstories, and their personalities. Also, on a more frivolous note: is that a ship I see on the horizon? I need it to sail, please and thank you, make it happen in The Dire King.

“Kindness is an act of bravery, I think, just as hatred is an act of fear.”

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