Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dust and Shadow

Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson is the first novel by Lyndsay Faye and it involves Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper.

When I first cracked the book, I will admit that I was underwhelmed by the concept. Jack the Ripper is possibly the most famous serial killer and his crimes took place in Victorian England. It isn't an exceptionally creative or unique idea to pit him against Sherlock Holmes. There have been numerous Holmes/Ripper pastiches (more famous one include Edward B. Hanna's The Whitechapel Horrors and Michael Dibdin's The Last Sherlock Holmes Story in novel form, A Study in Terror and Murder By Decree in film form). As it turns out, Dust and Shadow is most assuredly one of the better Holmes/Ripper pastiches.

Many writers of Holmesian pastiche try desperately to get the voice of Sherlock Holmes exactly right...and in my opinion this is an impossible goal. The many actors who have portrayed him have each adapted him in a different fashion. Some play him eccentric to the point of annoyance, others as dashing and romantic and still others so rude one wonders how Watson could stand him. Only Doyle got him completely correctly.

Where Faye excelled was the voice she did get correct: Watson.

Tim Rutten of The Los Angeles Times agrees...

One of the reason's first-time novelist Lyndsay Faye's energetic, charming and nicely atmospheric new Holmes pastiche, "Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson," entertains so successfully is because she gets the critical component -- Watson's voice -- right.

This is too true. Watson is quite often used incorrectly (view Nigel Bruce in the Rathbone/Bruce series of films or read Alan Vanneman's Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra* if you are really interested in seeing it done terribly wrong) but Faye just about nails it.

I am no Ripperologist, but from what I know, Faye is accurate in her descriptions of the Ripper's crimes. This adds a disturbing but fascinating layer to the novel. Her knowledge of Victorian London shows that there was some real time spent doing research on that subject as well.

The Ripper's reveal worked for me. Maybe not for others. Faye doesn't feel the need to hold your hand and go into deep detail about the murderer's motivations and childhood upbringing which I rather liked. When a monster is described too thoroughly, he or she ceases to be a monster and instead becomes a victim (a lesson not heeded by the creators of recent horror remakes).

If you are a Sherlockian with an interest in the Ripper crimes, I would highly recommend this book. Actually, if you are a Sherlockian with an interest in a well written Holmes pastiche I would highly recommend this book.

I would rate this book four pathetically drawn meerschaum pipes.

*You know what....actually don't read Vanneman's Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra. It is hands down the worst Holmes pastiche I have ever had the misfortune of reading.


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