Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Summer of Sherlock: "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Holmes" by Loren D. Estleman

Encapsulate the plot in one sentence?

Sherlock Holmes becomes obsessed with learning why "highly respectable" scientist Henry Jekyll revised his will, bequeathing his entire estate to "the immoral, debauched" and violent Mr. Edward Hyde...

When was this book published?

This is a 2010 Titan Books reprint of the 1979 original,  as part of their The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series of Sherlock Holmes novels by other authors.

What's your verdict?

It's a series of cat and mouse games. The only suspense is waiting for Sherlock to deduce the link between Dr. Jekyll and Mr.  Hyde;  when he does, you might wonder (as I did), why didn't he make that intuitive leap in logic sooner? Especially since the most obvious path of investigation is Dr. Jekyll's personal life and career, which Holmes does not do until the last 1/3 of the book. He spends the first 2/3 following Hyde aimlessly through London.

As with Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula, Estleman's novel is retelling the events of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel from the point of view of a Sherlock Holmes adventure,  but whereas the Dracula tale served as a subplot to Bram Stoker's novel, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Holmes is an alternate retelling of the story, with a different ending. And whereas the Dracula mashup was a quasi-suspense thriller with some light detective work (or merely examples of a detective thinking through), I think Estleman wanted Hyde to be more archtypical like Professor Moriarty or Jack the Ripper - building up an antagonistic relationship with Sherlock that leads to an explosive confrontation.  It doesn't work. Edward Hyde is not as interesting as Moriarty,  though ironically, Dr. Jekyll is very interesting and the scenes featuring him are very sharp. It makes sense that it is he and not Hyde who figures in the book's climactic scene, which is unfortunate, because we get a lot more pages centered around cat and mouse games with Hyde. That's not saying Hyde can't be interesting - Alan Moore made him a vaguely sympathetic anti-hero in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - but Estleman's portrayal reminds me of Danny Devito as The Penguin in Batman Returns: short, nasty, crude and mean. That image might help get through this if I felt like rereading it someday...would anyone care to see an adaptation of Doctor Jekyll & Mr. Hyde with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jekyll and Devito as Hyde? Or maybe that's just me...

Which scenes will stay with you?

The final showdown between Holmes and Doctor Jekyll does not disappoint. I also liked the afterward by the author,  in which he talks about how this book wasn't popular with Hollywood film executives who enjoyed Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula, but accused this book of being "too cerebral". Isn't calling a Sherlock Holmes adventure "too cerebral" a compliment? 

The final book in this Summer of Sherlock reading challenge for August will be Sherlock Holmes and The Titanic Tragedy...Sherlock Holmes novels tend to appear like dour reads sometimes (and there are MANY awful pastiches out there) but turn out to be quite light..maybe it's an effect  of the titles.

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