Beastly Bones by William Ritter speculative fiction book reviewsBeastly Bones by William Ritter

Beastly Bones (2015) is the second book in William Ritter’s YA fantasy series JACKABY. R.F. Jackaby is a paranormal detective in the style of Sherlock Holmes, in 1892 New England, and Abigail Rook is his able assistant. Like the immortal Dr. Watson, Abigail is our story-teller, but in Beastly Bones she gets a chance to practice her first love, paleontology, when an intact fossilized skeleton of an unknown creature is found in nearby Gad’s Valley. Unfortunately, suspicious human deaths followed the discovery, and Jackaby and Abigail are called in to investigate.

Charlie Barker, whose family secret forced him to leave New Fiddleham’s metropolitan police force, is a deputy in Gad’s Valley, which lets Abigail be closer to her crush and do some romantic dithering — not too much though, because her unique skills are needed for this case. Abigail was raised in “society” in England, but she yearns to follow the footsteps of her famous paleontologist father Daniel Rook, and her knowledge proves invaluable here.

As with the first book, even though serious things happen (people die) the tone is brisk and fairly light, and Beastly Bones made me laugh more than a few times. (There’s something about a cat-mackerel that makes me snort.) Ritter springboards off some real American history for this story; the smart, tough reporter Nellie Fuller is based on the smart, tough reporter Nellie Bly, and Ritter hilariously re-creates the infamous “bone feuds” between real-life dinosaur-hunters Marsh and Cope, here known as Lamb and Horner. This really added a dimension of fun for me, and it’s an interesting way to introduce those aspects of the American experience to young adults without being “lecturey.”

Jackaby (4 Book Series) by William RitterOf course, some familiar characters return; Charlie is back and so is the demure and troubled ghost Jenny, along with the prescient homeless woman Hatun. In this book, we begin to see the outline of a shadowy master criminal who might be Jackaby’s Moriarty, and there’s a sense that this person not only played a big part in the deaths associated with the “beastly bones,” but that he directly intervened in the fate of ghostly Jenny as well.

Jackaby is a real paranormal detective, having rare gifts as well as intellect, but when it comes to the mundane world he counts more and more on Abigail’s perception and discernment. These are YA novels, so I wasn’t surprised when I figured out the secret of the bones before the characters did. Basically, I enjoyed the adventures and chuckled over bits like the constant arguing between Lamb and Horner.

There is a Kindle-version novella, “The Map,” that takes place between Jackaby and Beastly Bones which I have not read, but I didn’t see any gaps while I was reading this one. If you’ve read “The Map,” please rate it in the Comments and tell us what you thought of it.

Dinosaur fans and history buffs will enjoy Beastly Bones; fantasy readers will have a good time and everybody will get a good chuckle out of something. There’s no sophomore slump here. And when Jackaby has to confront the shadowy figure directly, with Abigail by his side, he’ll be up for the task.

Published September 22, 2015. “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, members of a particularly vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens. A day later, their owner is found murdered, with a single mysterious puncture wound to her neck. Then, in nearby Gad’s Valley, dinosaur bones from a recent dig go missing, and an unidentifiable beast attacks animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Policeman Charlie Cane, exiled from New Fiddleham to the valley, calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer. Beastly Bones, the second installment in the series, delivers the same quirky humor and unforgettable characters as Jackaby, the book the Chicago Tribune called “Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” A 2016 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Title.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.