Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson (2009)

by Lyndsay Faye

The marvelous thing about Dust and Shadow is that it reads like Arthur Conan Doyle wrote it. Lyndsey Faye, with the blessing of Doyle’s heirs, gives Sherlock Holmes the challenge of solving the Jack the Ripper killings. Holmes and Ripper were, after all, contemporaries of a sort. Doyle published the first Sherlock Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet,” just one year before the Ripper killings.

Holmes’ powers of detection are urgently needed in London in 1888 because a serial killer is terrorizing the East End. Dr. John H. Watson — the narrator, of course — explains in a foreword written when he was an old man why the manuscript had been kept confidential.

Faye’s research is impeccable. She recreates the atmosphere of the East End in Victorian times — the poverty, the prostitution, the winding alleys, the shady characters, the working-class diction. She offers copious details about six murders that occurred there in the spring and fall of 1888. She knows the Holmes canon so well that she can imitate Watson’s tone without a false note.

The identity of Jack the Ripper is still debated today. Faye has Holmes solve the crimes — he must, he’s Sherlock Holmes — and creates a plausible reason for keeping the killer’s identity secret.

The title comes from Horace’s “We are but dust and shadow,” which Holmes quotes in the novel. Dust and Shadow is Faye’s first novel.


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