“Just you and me against unknowable terrors? Very well. We’ve faced worse. Maybe.” – Jackaby, Rook, page 277
It’s been six years since readers last visited William Ritter’s New Fiddleham, the fictional city at the heart of his popular Jackaby series. For the characters in Rook, however, it has only been six months since the events of The Dire King, the fourth book in the series. R. F. Jackaby, detective of the supernatural, no longer has the Sight, a power that granted him the ability to see magical auras and mythical creatures that humans cannot perceive. His long-suffering assistant, Abigail Rook, is now in possession of this extraordinary power, and she is far from ready to make good use of it. Yet New Fiddleham is not waiting for Abigail to be ready. Since the gateway between the human world and the supernatural world was opened in The Dire King, paranormal crime has been on the rise, and a series of kidnappings brings the trouble right to Abigail and Jackaby’s doorstep on Augur Lane.
Rook’s first hundred pages are a bit slow compared to the previous books in the series. Ritter spends quite a bit of time setting up Abigail’s discomfort with her new powers. It is implied that Abigail has spent the last six months learning everything she possibly can from Jackaby, from detecting individual auras to knowing different types of mythical creatures at a glance. Even so, when she begins to get into the thick of the kidnapping case, she struggles so much that the New Fiddleham police force questions her competence. Although theoretical learning cannot compare to practical experience, it still seems odd that Abigail should flounder so greatly. In addition, I was disappointed that many of the series’ supporting characters, like Jenny the friendly house-ghost and Douglas the human-turned-duck, are not present for most of the book. Though both finally make brief appearances in the novel’s middle, their insight and cheerful quirkiness is sidelined in Rook.
Once those first hundred pages are past, things begin to feel like a true Jackaby novel. Jackaby himself finally regains his footing—and with it, his hilarious personality—now that he is getting used to life without the Sight. In Rook, he delivers some of his best lines of dialogue in the entire series. (His attempts at “normal” conversation with Abigail’s father are spectacular.) Abigail’s parents know nothing about their daughter’s mystical abilities, so when they arrive in New Fiddleham—and have dinner with Abigail, Jackaby, and Abigail’s fiancé Charlie—there are plenty of humorous misunderstandings. Then, when the kidnappers steal one of the gang’s own right out of the dinner party, Ritter delivers his signature suspense, plot twists, and spookiness right up to the novel’s resolution.
Rook’s best moments come from the ever-evolving relationship between Abigail and Jackaby. If you’re a fan of the BBC’s Sherlock, picture this: somehow, Sherlock has lost the way he so cleverly sees the world. Instead, John Watson can suddenly solve crimes like Sherlock did. Imagine Sherlock trying to act like John, right down to how kindly and patiently John treats the people involved in their cases. Jackaby trying to act like Abigail has the same entertaining result. Now that Abigail has the Sight, she is trying her hardest to be the new Jackaby. This, of course, doesn’t work. It is only once Abigail begins to trust her own instincts that she fully steps into her new-found power, becoming the force for good that New Fiddleham needs.
Rook carries its emotional and suspenseful momentum up to the mystery’s conclusion, but it loses a bit of steam in its last two chapters. The villain’s comeuppance is lackluster. I would have preferred seeing them face harsher consequences for their actions. I am also disappointed that we do not get to see Jackaby and Abigail have a final moment together once their case has been solved. Each of the other books in the series allowed time for them to share the joy of their victory, but Rook keeps Abigail busy until the very last page. Still, the novel’s middle makes up for its shortcomings, as does the simple fact that we were given this look into the characters’ lives after The Dire King. If readers never set foot in New Fiddleham again, this is a satisfying place for Ritter to leave us. However, if he should choose to open the door to Augur Lane again someday, you’ll hear no complaints from me.