If one thing is evident about me and my literary affections (and there’s a lot more than one thing, but let’s just go with it here) it’s that all you need to do is mention Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to get my attention. I am a huge fan of the story, of all its various renditions, and how well any popular culture actually gets to portraying the proper Jekyll and Hyde that Robert Louis Stevenson created. (Hint: almost none.) So when this came across my feed in NetGalley, I jumped on the chance to read the ARC.
That being said, this is coming out far later than it should have, and I went and borrowed the book from Amazon to finish it. But I’m especially grateful that I did.
The book has two timelines: a modern one, where we follow Rafael Salazar and the coyotes he’s monitoring in Topanga Canyon, California, and the other beginning in 1881, following none other than Stevenson himself. It’s nearly impossible to figure out why we’re following both of them, and I found it difficult to invest myself in the book at first, because I couldn’t figure out why I was supposed to care about Rafe. There wasn’t anything wrong with him, I just didn’t have a connection. I mean, I agree that coyotes are probably cool and a good thing to study, and environmental agents should have places in books too. But.
As time went on, it began to clear up. Stevenson was in a far away portion of Switzerland, hoping to find some cure for the health issues that had been plaguing him for far too long. During his time there, a wolf begins to play a very prominent role in the story–and just around then, Rafe starts noticing that there’s something bigger than his coyotes wandering around the woods here. Now I’m getting interested.
We follow Stevenson, through journal entries, through his time in Davos (Switzerland) and the trials and tribulations he faced there–and here we begin to see where we may be going, with the introduction of a strange elixir that Dr. Rüedi gives to him, and the sudden surge of strength and indifference to danger that comes along with the taking of it. Sure enough, we follow into the time where Stevenson writes and publishes Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, his own struggles with duality–and then, as it did in real life, the onset of Jack the Ripper and suspicions being leveled at Stevenson.
Meanwhile in California, Rafe has found a large steamer trunk in the middle of a lake and doesn’t quite know what to do with it, though he knows he doesn’t want the local riff-raff getting their hands on it. Once open, he finds antique clothes which have clearly seen better days, an assortment of other knick-knacks, a pocket watch with unfamiliar initials carved on it…and a strange journal, which seems to have tales of Switzerland in it. And as things start to get bizarre with the people around him, he starts to wonder what else he’s unlocked with this trunk.
It’s a truly fascinating look at the times; I had been unaware that Jekyll and Hyde and Jack the Ripper coincided in real life, and that apparently RLS had in fact been considered for one of the Ripper’s possible identities. A quick glance through some basics of RLS’s life shows that the basics–where he lived, when he was there, nicknames he’s given–are all true. Of course, there are some liberties taken, and they’re pretty easy to pick out. But all things considered, it’s a wonderful piece of fiction.
I do think that the modern-day portions of the book are lacking. I don’t really have much drive to care about Rafe, no matter how cool he seems, and there are a lot of characters who are introduced simply to be a plot point…and then vanish again. It’s clear by the end that the author wants to bring the whole story around to meet back up with itself, but there’s not a strong connection to hold onto. If that had been strengthened, I think it would have been better–but all things considered, even if they’d just been taken out entirely, the story would have been just as enjoyable. It feels like a missed opportunity.
However, as you can see from my rating, I haven’t let that detract from my opinion overall. No matter how long it took me to get into it, once I was hooked I read the book in mere hours. The tone is perfect, the setting is good, the pacing is spaced without dragging. I enjoyed seeing Stevenson in his version of London, and the pieces of Jack the Ripper poking in. (I also noted some homages to real people in the names, though I don’t know if they actually existed in that time and place, or not. It was still nice.)
In the end, a very enjoyable book, and certainly enough to make me interested in other things Masello has written. He’s good with his words, and better with his research. Especially if you have a fondness for RLS, Jekyll and Hyde, or Jack the Ripper, I’d very much suggest picking up this book. It’s well worth the read.
Rating: ***** (Highest Recommendation)
THE JEKYLL REVELATION hit shelves on November 8th, 2016.