Book Review: Beastly Bones
by William Ritter
Algonquin Young Readers
(galley from BEA)
R.F. Jackaby solves crimes that deal with the supernatural and the arcane. While wearing a silly hat, and being trailed by his long-suffering assistant, Abigail Rook. I’m very happy to see the adventures of Jackaby and Miss Rook continue in a second volume. Even if reading it gave me nightmares about murderous kittens and carnage. Ritter’s turns of phrase are so delightfully arch and funny, in both Jackaby’s absurd dialogue and Rook’s narration, including passages that made me giggle out loud, I’m willing to forgive the odd nightmare about kittens embarking on a fuzzy, murderous bloodbath.
The author was moderately sympathetic when I yowled at him on Twitter about book-induced nightmares.
— William Ritter (@Willothewords) November 7, 2015
Reading the first Jackaby novel is a very good idea before reading this one. There is a decent amount of recapping of the previous adventure embedded in Abigail Rook’s narrative, but to get a real feel for a Jackaby mystery, it’s a better idea to start with the first book, especially to see how the dynamic between Rook and Jackaby has unfolded, and to understand why Abigail Rook is trying to maintain her awkward and halting friendship with Jenny the Ghost, or her charmingly awkward budding romance with Charlie the policeman, both of whom were introduced in book 1.
The main adventure of Beastly Bones begins innocently enough, with cats and kittens. Lest this seem too banal a mystery for a keen intellect like Jackaby’s… these are no ordinary kittens. They are shapeshifting ectomorphs, and are only temporarily kittens. These ectomporphs shift by consuming the thing they are going to become. (Like I said, bloodthirsty, nightmare-fueling kittens.) Mere days later, their owner is found murdered. Was it the kittens on the attack? Or some more sinister supernatural rampage?
Rumors of a similar killing take them out to the country, to the site of a dinosaur excavation. This whole setting is a delight, because it lets Abigail Rook be interested and brilliant. (She has studied paleontology, raised by a father who encouraged her interest.) Seeing the depiction and discussion of paleontology circa 19th century England was fascinating and fun, even more so with Ritter’s wry turns of phrase. Although there were plenty of fantastical elements, I could see the historical research in the characters and methods of the dig, and I loved it.
Having read this in tandem with the return of The Librarians to my TV set, I found a lot to love in the comparison between the two: snappy dialogue and fantastical adventures, and a really fun team dynamic between the characters. I think The Librarians will suit fans of Jackaby and vice versa.
This was a fast, fun read, and it left me wanting more Jackaby adventures, though it also whetted my appetite for other books in that sweet spot between historical and fantastical.