Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Versus Jack the Ripper!

By no means is Dust and Shadow the first time a Sherlock Holmes pastiche has pitted the great detective against Victorian London's most notorious villain, Jack the Ripper, but it is certainly the best I've read. First time novelist Lyndsay Faye did a wonderful job of writing in the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle while cranking up the pace for the jaded modern reader.

I am by no means a ripperologist (a rather grim historical specialty), nor would I qualify as a Sherlockian, but I have some familiarity with the crimes and I have read the canonical stories a few times. I'd say that Faye folded Holmes into the Whitechapel case seamlessly, using the proper Watsonian narrative style. And I loved every minute of it.

Which really is something of an accomplishment. We know that when Holmes is trying to prevent the next murder he is doomed to failure, because we know the history. The next crime will take place because it did take place. Yet we are carried along with the adventure, wondering what twist will be put on the facts, what insights Holmes will have into the identity of Jack.

Faye gives us the Watson and Holmes that we know and love. If I have any quibble it is that Holmes seems to show a good deal of sympathy toward the story's principal female character, which is a role usually assigned to Watson; but then she was an impressive woman. The characters, familiar (Lestrade is particularly well drawn) and unfamiliar, are engaging. The setting, often a very important part in these stories, is vivid. The crimes themselves are gruesomely fascinating. Enough of the details are revealed to horrify, but not enough to sicken.

One of the things that makes Jack the Ripper such a good subject for fiction is the fact that the murders will forever remain a mystery. It frees writers to come up with any solution they wish. The solution here works and the ending is satisfying. This is a Guaranteed Good Read for anyone who likes a mystery, especially a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

No comments: