(First thank you to the publisher, Algonquin, for providing me with an advanced review copy. This did not in any way affect my review.)
In Short: Beastly Bones, Ritter’s follow-up to 2014’s Jackaby is a lively, action-packed, and entertaining mystery-paranormal novel that will find many fans of all ages who love Sherlock, Doctor Who, Supernatural, and Harry Potter.
Plot Summary: The year is 1892, and the place is the New England city of New Fiddleham. Abigail Rook, a young British woman, has been living with her employer, the eccentric R. F. Jackaby, a detective of the paranormal. Abigail acts as Jackaby’s assistant, helping with paperwork and, increasingly, the investigative and deductive process. When the novel opens, Rook and Jackaby are called to the scene of a lady who has purchased shapeshifting cats. Later, the duo learn from assistant police commissioner Marlowe that this woman has been found dead with an unusual puncture mark on her neck similar to one found on a woman who has just died in the nearby village of Gad’s Valley in the countryside. Jackaby and Rook go there to join up with a former member of the police force, Charlie Cane (a werewolf love interest of Abigail’s), who has recently been exiled to Gad’s Valley. The woman who was murdered died near a site of a paleontological dig where dinosaur bones are being uncovered—and stolen. Jackaby and Rook’s knowledge of paleontology, anatomy, zoology, and cryptozoology are called upon as they try to find out what deadly beast is stalking the countryside—and who is really responsible for orchestrating a series of crimes that reach deadly heights…perhaps the mysterious, deathly-pale man Abigail keeps seeing?
Analysis: Ritter finds a strong protagonist in Abigail Rook and genuinely likable supporting characters in Jackaby, Cane, Hudson the sportsman (clearly calling upon J. K. Rowling’s beloved groundskeeper, Hagrid), Jenny the house ghost, and even Douglas the duck. Rook is eager to please her employer yet modest and humble with her success. She is a quintessential everywoman standing as a foil to the quirky and idiosyncratic Jackaby.
Ritter seems more assured here having found Jackaby’s groove. Whatever the comparisons may be between Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes and Ritter’s Jackaby, they are more dissimilar than similar. This is in fact a good thing as Jackaby stands on his own, someone who is more perceptive to human emotions (as when he gives Abigail some love advice) and less deliberately off-putting (Jackaby truly does have allies: “I’m a likable man…lots of people are friends with me,” an observation that’s true from what the reader can see). Jackaby, spouting off legends and myths in the same breath as science and the paranormal, truly is a marvel to behold, and he especially comes alive in Ritter’s sharp and easy dialogue. Rook and Jackaby trade insults and banter in a comfortable and engaging way that pushes the already-rollicking plot forward.
Essentially, Ritter’s tightly-constructed, well-paced plot is fun. The adventure never seems too ludicrous no matter how many mythological creatures are involved. The action scenes are engaging and lively.
Bottom Line: Ritter seems to have found his footing with Beastly Bones. Indeed his entertaining series is standing as a creation all its own rather than leaning on comparisons to popular shows or movies (let’s hope we can shake the “Doctor Who meets Sherlock!” marketing this time around). Ritter has planted a couple seeds for mysteries to be explored in future novels that readers will want as soon as they turn the last page. Ritter’s series also has crossover appeal for male and female readers and adult and young adult audiences. Highly recommended. 5 stars.