Tuesday, November 15, 2016

TNB -- History & Mystery: The Jekyll Revelation

This month at our Tuesday Night Bloggers meetings we will be examining mysteries within a historical context--either historical mysteries (written, say in 1930 but set in the Victorian period, for example) or which take place during or around a historical event or which address historical issues. The field is wide-open so if you have historical mysterious thoughts to share, please stop by for group discussion and I'll add your posts to the list. We tend to focus on the Golden Age of crime fiction--generally accepted as published between the World Wars, but everyone seems to have a slightly different definition and we're pretty flexible. Essays on more recent crime fiction are welcome as well.

This week's Historical Experts:
Brad @ Ah Sweet Mystery Blog: "History Crosses Paths: The Picture from the Past"
John @ Pretty Sinister Books: "The Longbow Murder (a rerun)"

Moira @ Clothes in Books: "Anachronisms Ahoy"  
Kate @ Cross Examining Crime: "Favourite Historical Novels & Writers"  
The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel: "Tudors, Stewarts and that Cromwell Chap -- 1485 to 1714"  
JJ @ The Invisible Event: "Meta-Fictional Historical Deconstruction in Magpie Murders (2016) by Anthony Horowitz"

Week #1 Post  
Week #2 Post

Fortunately my latest read fits right into our chosen theme. Just released in November 2016, it's a little outside my usual vintage fare for this meme but in The Jekyll Revelation Robert Masello revisits one of the big draws in historical mystery fiction: the identity of Jack the Ripper. Just when you think every possible solution has been given for who the Victorian killer was along comes Masello with his fictional take on certain aspects of Robert Louis Stevenson's life. It's interesting to note that the true to life, the Ripper murders began just at the time that Stevenson's story about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde opened as a play in London.

Massello's story straddles two time periods--modern day California and Victorian London. An environmental scientist Rafael Salazar is on patrol looking to track tagged coyotes when he discovers an antique steamer trunk. It's primarily full of old clothes (an opera cape and other Victorian finery), but nestled among the clothes is a journal, written by Robert Louis Stevenson. As he deciphers the Victorian script, the secret origin of Stevenson's famous story of Jekyll and Hyde is revealed...as well as an explanation behind the brutal murders which had been laid at the feet of Jack the Ripper. The story of Jack doesn't stop there, however. There's another item in the trunk and it falls into the wrong hands, unleashing a terrible force in Rafe's modern world.

The story is a bit fantastic--requiring a definite suspension of disbelief to buy the basic premise behind the Jekyll/Hyde story as well as the solution to the Ripper's identity. But there is a mystery to be solved and one isn't quite sure about who the Ripper is until the very end. It certainly makes for a unique solution to the question of Jack's identity. The historical portion of the novel is very strong and it sweeps you right into the Victorian time period. I much preferred reading Stevenson's journal entries to the modern day story framing the journal. Honestly, I think it would have been a much stronger book without the connection to the 21st century--or at the very least if Rafe had discovered the trunk and then settled down to read the journal, allowing the story to unfold for the reader without the constant interruptions from current events. It lost some of the historical flavor each time we returned to 2016. ★★


Anonymous said...

Well at least this wasn't another "true crime" book where yet another modern-day expert uncovers the "real" identity of Jack the Ripper. I'm starting to think there's no-one in Victorian London left who couldn't be involved in some way, like a sort of city-wide Murder on the Orient Express...

Bev Hankins said...

JJ: Yes. I was intrigued by the connections Massello makes between the origins of the Jekyll/Hyde story and the identity of the Ripper. In order to be more of a whodunnit, he needed to provide a bit more choice of culprit. Personally, I think it would have made a much better surprise ending if he had decided to go for something even a bit more radical.

fredamans said...

Ooooh this sounds like a wonderful book. I love that he keeps you wondering till the end!