As an avid reader, the escapism value of reading a gosh-darned good book is absolutely undeniable – this fact I knew since I could read. I admit that I am also one of those snobbish purists. I love my classics, and if anyone else tries to write a book using the original characters, it is pretty much akin to blasphemy. I could not bring myself to read the sequels of Rebecca for example, because no one can match the sheer brilliance of Daphne du Maurier, I am sorry.
I am starting to make exceptions though.
I’ve read the stories of Sherlock Holmes many times over since my youth, and have stubbornly resisted reading anything featuring the famous detective by anyone else other than Arthur Conan Doyle. Even films and TV series fell all kinds of short when compared to my mental image of the man – until of course BBC’s Sherlock, where Benedict Cumberbatch is simply brilliant, in spite of being slightly silly. I forgive him.
I have always wondered why Mr. Doyle never tackled the particular problem of Jack the Ripper. I mean the time frames overlap, so surely there must have been some interest in the creator of the most famous detective of literature. In fact, I’ve read that the person who inspired Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Joseph Bell, did in fact investigate the murders, but this information is unverified and might be urban legend.
Anyway, in comes fiction and imagination. With a clear and open mind, I picked up Lyndsay Faye’s Dust and Shadow, which she claims is an account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson. Well, what can I say – I loved this book and I couldn’t put it down. Having read so much about the Ripper murders (to the point of doing the Ripper tour while I was in London), the fact that my beloved Holmes is featured in the temporal vicinity of the killer, and is involved in unmasking him still makes me shiver in delight. Lyndsay Faye is a good writer, capturing quite perfectly the writing style of Dr. Watson, which I incredibly thankful for. Plus she gives him a bit of a human heart – Holmes is known to be emotionally removed from his cases, but even he is moved when discovering the last victim of the Ripper.
There are definitely some loose ends that seemed more like distractions, like the inclusion of a female version of the Baker Street Irregulars, Mary Ann Monk. And then there is the glaring exclusion of the killer’s story and mental profile – there is no mention of his trigger to become one of the most notorious of historical killers. However, none of these short comings struck a sour note with me as I galloped towards the end of the story. I was deeply satisfied when I was done.
So read Dust and Shadows, and leave some of your inhibitions behind as you do, for while there is only one Arthur Conan Doyle, Lyndsay Faye comes pretty damn close to his perfection.
PS. Another book recommendation is Anthony Horowitz’ House of Silk, where he also brings Sherlock to life in an incredibly beautiful and shocking story.