Title: Beastly Bones (Jackaby #2)
Author: William Ritter
Publication date: September 2015
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Historical fiction, YA, mystery
“I’ve found very little about private detective R. F. Jackaby to be standard in the time I’ve known him. Working as his assistant tends to call for a somewhat flexible relationship with reality.”
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, a vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens, and a day later, their owner is found murdered with a single mysterious puncture wound. Then in nearby Gad’s Valley, now home to the exiled New Fiddleham police detective Charlie Cane, dinosaur bones from a recent dig mysteriously go missing, and an unidentifiable beast starts attacking animals and people, leaving their 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.
After the last book I read which was really dense, wanted something lighter and Beastly Bones was perfect. Set during at the end of the 19th century, it follows Abigail Rook and R. F. Jackaby on their second in adventure as they investigate a fossil theft. Told from Abigail’s POV as a series of diary entries, the book is remarkably personal—to the point that it feels like she’s narrating it as a fairy tale directly to the audience. While she takes great care in expressing her own feelings as well as describing each scene in great detail, she makes the reader pause on the spaces she finds herself in. As an English major, I’ve worked a lot on characterisation through personal vs. public spaces (hard not to when the only thing you study for an entire semester is The Scarlet Letter), and the fact that this was an important aspect in Beastly Bones made me completely geek out. Even though Abigail is the sole narrator, the fact that she finds describes most of the characters’ personal spaces gives the reader insight into their thoughts.
Beastly Bones comes with its own set of interesting and diverse characters to enthrall the reader. Beyond that, the characters central to the plot/story often provide opposing perspectives to the same matter. Jackaby and Abigail maintain a working relationship while growing closer which gives the reader insight into Jackaby’s character. While he appeared eccentric and absolutely useless when it came to proper social interactions in Jackaby, Beastly Bones shows that he can, in fact, relate to others and gives them good advice (even if he seems to avoid it like the plague). Far from simply being faced with an employer/employee situation, Abigail and Jackaby’s relationship closely resembles the relationship Holmes developed with Watson (no, not the BBC kind) while still being respectful. The second prominent pairing is between Owen Horner and Lewis Lamb (whose names, I like to think, were inspired by palaeontologists Jack Horner and Lawrence Lambe respectively) which really shows the two stereotypical versions of academia: the charming, relatable, and cocky professor Horner, and the grouchy, insufferable, I’m-the-human-version-of-a-sandy-bathing-suit-because-I’m-so-famous-in-my-field professor Lamb, who come directly into conflict all throughout the story, constantly looking to one-up the other. It’s important to note that, not all of the opposing characters come into conflict; while Hank Hudson and Charlie Baker (formerly Cane) find themselves in opposing roles, that of the hunter and the prey respectively, it is important to remember that this is told from Abigail’s perspective, who may perceive a greater threat against Charlie than what’s really there. However, it’s the last pairing that really drew my attention because of how it’s set up; Jenny Cavanaugh and Nellie Fuller are two women on the opposite side of the spectrum whose opinions never stop clashing, but they never come into direct conflict with each other because they never meet. Instead, their opinions are set in opposite camps by Abigail whenever she weighs the advice they’ve both given her regarding a particular situation. I found this particularly clever because it gives the reader two arguments to consider while Abigail acts as the mediator is this mental debate.
Speaking of Nellie Fuller, let’s take an extra moment to consider her. I fell in love with Nellie Fuller the second she spoke her first words (you’re lying if you disagree with me: “It’s Lewis Lamb, isn’t it?” she asked, not waiting for a reply. “Nellie Fuller with the Chronicle. Enchanté. May I be the first to say that fetching dust-gray suit really brings out the color of your personality.”) and my esteem for her only increased from there. While Jenny Cavanaugh follows a more conservative opinion on women’s place in society (if a bit loosely), Fuller is her complete opposite in everything from her brazen behaviour to her disregard of everything romantic (which saddened me since I totally ship her with Jackaby) because she doesn’t want to be the woman who ‘tied herself into an apron’ to make a man great. In fact, her interactions with all the male characters are driven by the idea that she believes herself to be their equal, which causes varying degrees of frustration, depending on each character’s opinion of what her place should be. In many respects Nellie Fuller is the embodiment of the woman Abigail hoped to be when she ran away from her mother’s way of living: strong, independent, and fighting to be viewed as an equal instead of sitting on the side lines.
If you’re anything like me and you tend to forget most of the small details while waiting between releases, then worry no more because Ritter foresaw this problem and gently reminds his reader of the events in Jackaby without it being a tedious info-dump in the beginning of the novel. In fact, all throughout he links it to the first book in the series and sets up a much larger arc that will appears to be the plot to the next installment in the series (fingers crossed because my search for any official news on book 3 came up empty).