Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter
I’m coming late to the New York Times best-selling Jackaby series, but the third installment was released recently and, judging by the title, it seemed like it would be a good read for right around Halloween.
“Ghostly Echoes” picks up where the second book, “Beastly Bones,” left off. This story brings back the perspicacious R. F. Jackaby, private investigator specializing in the supernatural, and his doughty assistant, Abigail Rook. They are still in business at the haunted house at 926 Augur Lane in New Fiddleham, which is a New England-type town set in a late 19th-century alternate universe.
In this installment, it is Jenny Cavanaugh, the resident ghost at 926 Augur, who needs their services. She wants them to solve her own grisly murder, which occurred 10 years earlier, and find out what happened to her scientist fiancé, who went missing that same night. Howard Carson had been a major player in the town’s New Fiddleham Technological Center. But shortly after his disappearance, the center was destroyed in a mysterious explosion.
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A decade later, trouble appears to be brewing in New Fiddleham again. The town’s current crop of forward-thinkers is also getting attacked, and the cases bear an eerie and gruesome similarity to what happened before.
And so Jackaby, Abigail, Jenny, and their ally Charlie Cane (a cop/canine shapeshifter) embark on a mission that takes them from the Mayor’s home to the dicey backstreets of New Fiddleham, and then to perilous precincts of the mythical underworld, as they try to unravel who is behind this plot to confound progress and scientific advancement.
Along the way, there are riddles and wordplay and bits of 19th century history thrown in for good measure – Tesla, Lizzie Borden, etc. There is firm advocacy for diversity, inclusion and tolerance, and there’s a well-crafted bit of philosophizing.
Readers will encounter an entertaining mash-up of the paranormal and mythology from various cultures throughout the book. A marvelously sinister vampire connives through the pages, as do elementals, will-o-the-wisps, an Egyptian demon, an evil nixie, Charon (the ferryman of Hades), and the End Soul.
The Jackaby series was conceived of by William Ritter, an Oregon high school language arts teacher. His inventive melding of steampunk, science, magic and world cultures makes for pages chockablock with action and emotional drama. For the reader, sometimes the plot may become obscured by all that busy-ness, but Ritter has a sure hand, and keeps all of the story threads from getting irreparably snarled.
In this third installment, the ante has been upped, and by book’s end, a major force comes forward to threaten “the age of men.” Jackaby the supernatural investigator and Abigail his able assistant are sure to be back.
One note: This fictional tale describes a considerable amount of gore and suffering, and there’s some pretty dark psychological stuff, too. I know that kids are exposed to a lot these days, even at an early age, but I’d recommend this for no younger than a middle school audience.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org