I have never read a book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. I openly admit this, and I honestly have never had much desire to do so. (Robert Downey Jr. is enough for me!) For one of the book clubs I ran this month, we read Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye, which was a Sherlock Holmes story, told from Watson’s point of view, about the investigation of the Jack the Ripper murders. Unfortunately, I was not overly fond of this book, and I don’t think I will read Doyle anytime soon.
The book begins with Sherlock closing a case before going back to London. Once in London, the gruesome murders of women in the street attract Holmes’ attention. After he begins investigating, Jack the Ripper begins taunting Holmes with letters sent to him. The press also considers Holmes himself a suspect, essentially crucifying him in the papers. As the investigation continues, Holmes and Watson become deeply involved in the case, and have a few close encounters with the killer himself. As is the norm for Sherlock Holmes, his deductive skills in the end solve the case.
In the book, the Ripper’s murders are somewhat explicitly described, but accurate in their details, which are rather brutal, I must note. Sherlock Holmes’ involvement in the investigation is interesting, and true to character. He pays attention to details while shirking social norms, not always following the rules. Without giving anything away, I can tell you that they do catch Jack the Ripper in the book, but I was not pleased with their choice. Not enough motive for me.
There is a lot of good to be said about this book. It was meticulously researched, for one. Faye did her background work, bringing in information about the characters created by Doyle over a hundred years ago. She had minute details about their habits, backgrounds, and referrals to minor characters who previously appeared in the original novels. The story also is accurate about the Jack the Ripper murders. Having gone into this novel with very little knowledge of Jack the Ripper, I was impressed when I compared the real facts with the book.
Many times while reading this novel, I was frustrated with the lofty language and the way dialogue was handled. I guess I assumed the book would be more readable than the Doyle counterparts, since it was written so recently. In staying true to Doyle fashion, however, it was difficult to get through. I didn’t think the book picked up its pace until more than halfway through, and it took me quite a while to become interested.
Nonetheless, if you are either a Sherlock fan, or a Jack the Ripper aficionado, this book would be right up your alley.