Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dust and Shadow An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye

In 1939, fifty-one years after the atrocities of 1888, perpetrated by the fiend known to history as Jack the Ripper, Dr. Watson takes up his pen to reveal the role his friend the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes played in the investigation of the most infamous killer of all time. He begins with the tantalizing statement: "At first it seemed the Ripper affair had scarred my friend Sherlock Holmes as badly as it had the city of London itself.'

The reader is then transported back to the London of Queen Victoria, hansom cabs, and gaslights to hear a tale peopled with peasoup fogs, penny whores, perplexed police officers, yellow journalists, street urchins, and over-vigilant vigilantes that bear more resemblance to a lynch mob. The story takes Holmes and Watson from the comfortable environs of 221B Baker Street to the dangerous streets of Whitechapel, a world of grinding poverty, dark alleys, pubs, doss houses, and opium dens. They are aided in their investigation by an enterprising streetwalker who was friends with one of the victims and a young man who is not at first what he seems, and are hampered by a muckraking journalist who casts suspicion on Holmes himself.

The game is indeed afoot as readers follow Sherlock Holmes and the loyal Watson through Whitechapel on Guy Fawkes Night as, amidst the celebratory firecrackers, bonfires, roasting potatoes, and burning effigies, the clues begin to fall into place like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and it is a race against time to try to prevent the next murder and bring the killer to justice.

Ms. Faye does a fine job of recreating the style of the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories and evoking the sights, sounds,and smells of Victorian London, and the alternately plucky, pathetic, violent, and colourful denizens of the East End slums.

This is a Ripper story unembellished by the outlandish theories and conspiracies that are all too common in the literature, even that labeled as non-fiction. And although it is never made quite clear in the pages of Ms. Faye's novel what exactly drove the Ripper to kill and mutilate his unfortunate victims, it is nonetheless a fine addition to the shelves of Sherlockiana.

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