From the gritty streets of nineteenth century London, the loyal and courageous Dr. Watson offers a tale unearthed after generations of lore: the harrowing story of Sherlock Holmes’s attempt to hunt down Jack the Ripper. (from Amazon)
I still haven’t finished reading the original Holmes stories, but that won’t stop me from reading pastiches! Pastiches, for those who don’t know, are basically professional fanfics of things. They usually refer to Sherlock Holmes pastiches, of which there are many. Lately there have been quite a few good Sherlock Holmes pastiches coming out, and most of them seem to be Holmes vs. something. So Dust and Shadow, for instance, is Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper.
This isn’t all that of an original idea, to be honest. I’ve got another Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper pastiche on my shelf waiting for me to finish reading it1 and I’m sure there are tons more. However, what’s great about this one is how well it’s written. Some pastiches have Holmes and Watson acting in a way that doesn’t fit with how I personally view them, which means I invariably end up annoyed. Other pastiches, meanwhile, have H&W acting exactly as I see them, and they solve ferocious mysteries and have amazing adventures and act like themselves while doing those things and I really love those pastiches. A lot.
Dust and Shadow is one of those awesome pastiches.
It doesn’t feel like an Arthur Conan Doyle book, exactly. If you hate ACD’s writing (as I sometimes do, tbh), you’d probably like this book. It’s got some silly quirks, like definitely a slang word in the sentence following it, but overall I think it’s an excellently written book. It’s got the same sort of atmosphere ACD’s stories mainly have, moody and thrilling and bloody mysterious, and it’s got a good grip on the characters without copying them exactly. One of the things that frustrates me about the original stories is how much like characters Watson and Holmes feel like; in Dust and Shadow, however, they feel like real people. Real people who are kind of like the Victorian equivalent of superheroes, but real people nonetheless. The secondary characters get less of the “real person” treatment, however, including poor Lestrade who never seems to get a good turn.
The solution to the mystery was…somewhat anticlimatic, but only because the Ripper legend has been built up into this huge monstrous thing. Any solution is going to be disappointing, I think, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a clever one. And I think the solution in Dust and Shadow is clever, yes.
So! One of my favorite Holmes pastiches I’ve read this year, for sure. I’m totally going to read whatever else Lyndsay Faye writes, and I hope she writes more Holmes stuff. I’m especially interested in seeing what she can do working outside of an established mystery, too.
Read: November 25-December 4, 2011
One of my favorite things about Dust and Shadow that I didn’t mention was the inclusion of a plucky female sidekick! There really aren’t enough female characters in the original stories that do more than faint or cry, so having an active, intelligent, kind woman help solve the Ripper mystery was great! I did feel that what happened to her at the end was ridiculous, though, and kind of unnecessary.
There’s an interview with LF at the Baker Street Babes podcast, a thing I am desperately behind in.
- there was a very tense scene and I couldn’t take the pressure, so I had to put it on hold…for about 8 months. Anyway. ↩