APOCRYPHAL OF THE WEEK
So, I finally found some materials worth resuming this column, and here I am, sharing with you my review of the last apocryphal I’ve just read (thanks to all the kind people who recommended it to me!): Lyndsay Faye, Dust and shadow. An account of the Ripper killings by Dr. John H. Watson, 2009.
The subtitle makes quite clear both the setting and the main subject of the book, so I won’t add anything more about these points, also in order to avoid spoiling you the pleasure of reading.
I must say that I liked this book quite a lot, mainly because all our heroes are perfectly in-character: not only Holmes and Watson, but also the minor canonical characters (in this case, Lestrade, whose rendering I think the best I’ve read since now in an apocryphal, Mrs. Hudson and - rejoice, mycroftians all over the world! - Mycroft). The dialogues between our beloved detective and his faithful comrade are quite perfect, and there are a couple of interactions between the Holmes Brothers which are really artful. In general, the book manages to keep each character, and each interaction between characters, faithful to their canonical versions, and yet to add some new and interesting - and entirely plausible - nuances.
Also the extra-canonical characters (or those only mentioned en passant in Canon, such as Dr. Moore Agar) are lively and interesting; and the setting is described with great faithfulness to Victorian London, as are accurate the details of the Ripper’s murders. The researches behind the book were thorough, and the result is that each scene sounds realistic and plausible.
To the writer’s credit, I must add that the idea of making Holmes the victim of a character assassination campaign in the media was conceived well before Sherlock Series 1 ever aired, and is played really well.
The only weak point of the book lies, I’m afraid, in the choice of the topic: the Ripper’s murders, not having been solved in “real world”, always compel writers who decide to approach them in a fiction to either leave the case unsolved, too - which, in a novel, is almost unbearable - or to struggle to find a solution which can account for the lack of a public solution of the mistery (which happens in the current case), and which, therefore, is always someway a little stretched. Truth be told, however, I must say that the solution the author chose in this case is quite more plausible and better played than the ones produced by many of her predecessors, including the famous A study in terror of the renowned Ellery Queen. It was probably the best that could be done with such a thorny subject.
In conclusion, while I hope that Ms. Faye will one day give us another apocryphal (or a set of short stories) centered on a less constraining topic, which would allow for an even better Holmes’ story, I still consider this a VERY GOOD apocryphal (second only to Horowitz’s one, on my personal rank, and this only because of the difficulties of the subject) and I wholeheartedly recommend it to your attention!