A while back, I read the first two books in Ritter’s Jackaby series (Jackaby and Beastly Bones). Ghostly Echoes is the third in the series, and, from the way it ended, this is apparently going to be an actual series and not just a trilogy. I’m overall happy about that as I am enjoying these books, but I felt like Echoes wasn’t as strong as the first two books.
For those who don’t remember, the narrator of these books is Abigail Rook. She works in 1890’s New England as an assistant to a detective. But Jackaby isn’t just any detective – he can see things as they are – so if you happen to be a fairy in disguise, he’ll sniff you right out. Jackaby is a sort of Sherlock/Doctor Who mashup that ends up working really well. I really like his character a lot, and I also like Abigail a lot, and I think that that’s a large part of the reason that these books have been so enjoyable. Both characters are sensible and funny, and have a great non-romantic chemistry between them.
Beastly Bones didn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, but it definitely did end with some loose ends – this sort of concept that we were stumbling onto “something bigger.” This is the direction we head with Echoes, which centers around another member of Jackaby’s household: Jenny Cavanaugh, who was murdered in her home – now owned by Jackaby – ten years earlier. Now a ghost, Jenny doesn’t remember the night she was killed with much clarity, but she is ready to start trying to solve her own mystery. And, conveniently, Jenny’s death ties right in to the grand scheme of things that Jackaby and Abigail are researching.
While parts of this book were a good romp, there were other bits that felt awkward. I really like Abigail’s love interest, and feel like their relationship has the right amount of importance in the book (it’s a side line, but not the driving force of all Abigail’s actions), but sometimes the whole thing feels awkward, like Ritter isn’t really sure how to right a burgeoning paranormal romance in 1890’s New England.
I was also moderately annoyed when Ritter had Jackaby and Abigail run into/rescue a dude dressed as a woman. The entire chapter added nothing to the story other than a way for Ritter to work modern sentiment concerning gender identity disorder into the narrative, as I had to listen to Jackaby natter on about how important it is for people to “be who they are” and how doctors obviously can’t determine someone’s sex. (Sorry, that’s just false. Your feelings can change your perception of what you are, but feelings alone cannot actually change the physical aspect of what you are.) I just get annoyed when things like this are shoehorned into a story – it comes across as a way of trying to make sure all the “hot topics” are checked off, rather than a way to forward the plot.
I’m still interested to see how the over-arching plot is going to play out. Ritter has a lot of things in place now, so I think that it could be fun. In a way, though, I wish that he had stuck more to his pattern for the original book, with each story just being its own story. I felt like he told a better, more focused tale. In Beastly Bones to some extend, and definitely in Ghostly Echoes, the whole attempt to build a big story felt like it damaged the smaller plot of the book.
All in all, this was a solid 3/5 read. It was a decent and engaging story, but there were definitely some weak points in the plot – some areas that I felt ought to be tightened up to really make the story make sense. We get more of Jackaby’s childhood and background, but sometimes the telling of it feels unnatural, like Ritter is shoving things into place to make them play out the way he wants. I still love the dialogue and relationships in these books, though, so I’m looking forward to seeing where the series goes next.