Rose's Reviews > Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye
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Mar 09, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: holmes, mysteries, sherlock-vs-ripper

Wow. Wow wow *wow*.

I cannot remember the last time I read a book I loved this much. Sucking me completely in as it did, I was quickly caught up in a weird dichotomy wherein I was desperate to finish reading so that I could find out what happened, but I didn't want to ever finish reading because I didn't want it to be over. There's been a lot of books I've enjoyed and quite loved over the past few years, but I can't think of another one where I didn't want to finish reading because I didn't want it to be *over* (even if I was frantic to get to the ending so that I could see how it all turns out!).

There are countless pastiche stories (both on the page and onscreen) that pit Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper. This makes sense -- there's an understandable fascination with the idea of the world's most famous fictional detective going up against the world's most infamous real-life serial killer. The fact that Conan Doyle set his fictional detective in the world of Victorian London -- which just so happens to be Jack the Ripper's era, too -- makes the idea irresistible.

I plan on making a hobby out of reading "Holmes vs. the Ripper" reads. So saying that, I very deliberately chose this book, out of all the other versions, to be my first introduction to the concept. I chose this one because it's purported to be the best, in terms of research; now I'm wondering if I made a mistake, because I don't see how any other Holmes/Ripper mash-up will ever be able to hold the slightest candle.

Well-researched, indeed. My knowledge of Jack the Ripper is pretty limited (it wasn't until after I'd read this book that I realized that he was even *called* "Jack the Ripper" because he, well ... *ripped*). Still, some glances around Wikipedia show me that Faye certainly did her Ripper research -- the details, clues, names, crimes, letters, and even characters are all directly out of the history books. (Certainly, she had to pick and choose some of those details, since there is still debate today on exactly what crimes the Ripper actually committed and which should not actually be attributed to him -- but the details are there.) You come out of this book the way you often come out of most good historical fiction: feeling, quite accurately, that you've learned something about the period.

But the Ripper research wasn't the only thing Faye did well. She matched her knowledge of Jack the Ripper with obvious research (and obvious affection) for the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

I'm only just started to read from the thousands of Holmes pastiches that are out there, but I'm already finding that getting a pastiche to work for me involves a tricky balancing act on the part of the author. I think what made this particular pastiche work so beautifully for me is that Faye has a grasp on both the literal little-details from the Conan Doyle canon, as well as having a real sense of what makes both characters tick. Here are Holmes and Watson, embroiled in the most violent and horror-striken case of their career -- so, by necessity, they are pushed beyond the brink of how we see them in the Conan Doyle canon. And yet, the result is not one of Holmes and Watson being out of character -- but rather that Faye gives us (at least in my opinion) deeper, more real versions of them. Holmes's ascerbic (yet somehow still often good-natured) humor, his determination, his wit, his courage; Watson's sense of honor, loyalty, and enthusiasm for the case and to Holmes himself -- it's all still there, just like in any other story. But it's magnified and deepened, because a case this darkly, powerfully epic demands it of them. (It reminded me just slightly of "A Game of Shadows" in that regard -- yes, of course there are far less explosions; but the idea of the detective duo being pushed into deeper versions of themselves in response to an epic case rings through in both stories, if in different ways.)

The writer in me also had to deeply admire the sheer craft in this -- and I can't quite remember the last time I spent so much time reading a book and thinking, "... man, she's REALLY good at crafting a story!" The mystery threads and winds and twists back on itself; details are laid to be paid off later, and the pacing and plotting are as tight as can be. I can't say much more without spoilers, but believe me when I say this is a mystery writer who knows what she's doing. (I also just like her *style* -- I thought she did a nice job of capturing the voices of Holmes, as well as the narrating Watson, without completely obliterating her own style.)

There's high action, high drama, high stakes. There's even some delightful original characters (my favorite by far being Miss Monk, who could have been an annoying addition and yet was by far one of the most fantastic additions to the story; she reminded me of a blend of Auguste Dupin with Eliza Doolittle). There's amazing historical research. But at the center of it all is the friendship between Holmes and Watson -- which, as far as I'm concerned, is how it should be. It made for a novel that is not only surely my favorite Holmes pastiche to date, but is also one of my new all-time favorite novels, period. If you've ANY interest in Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, or historical mysteries, this is a must-MUST-read. Not to be missed!
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Reading Progress

March 9, 2012 – Started Reading
March 9, 2012 – Shelved
March 9, 2012 – Shelved as: holmes
March 9, 2012 – Shelved as: mysteries
March 19, 2012 –
page 72
22.15%
March 20, 2012 –
page 98
30.15%
March 23, 2012 –
page 162
49.85%
March 24, 2012 –
page 180
55.38%
March 24, 2012 –
page 192
59.08%
March 26, 2012 –
page 240
73.85%
March 27, 2012 –
page 300
92.31%
March 27, 2012 – Finished Reading
March 29, 2012 – Shelved as: sherlock-vs-ripper

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Gina Boyd I'm convinced. I'm off to request this from the library!


Rose I'm sitting here with a very self-satisfied smile. I feel like my job is DONE, somehow. (I'm not exactly sure what "my job" IS, but whatever is, I must have done it well!! ;-D)


Gina Boyd Indeed. I just upgraded my stupid Facebook page so that my Goodreads stuff updates over there. I'm hoping it'll be a way for me to get more book suggestions without actually having to INTERACT with people on FB. :-)


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