In Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson, Lyndsay Faye combines a great deal of research into the Jack the Ripper killings in 1888 with a vast knowledge of Sherlock Holmes literature to offer an entertaining solution to the crimes. The novel begins nearly 50 years after the events, when Dr. Watson places his narrative of the murders into a safety deposit box on the eve of war.
Inspector Lestrade comes to consult Holmes after the second murder, when police begin to realize the two deaths may be linked. Holmes immediately begins pursuing his usual means of detection–inspecting the body and the scenes of the crimes, trying to find out where the victims were last sighted, questioning the victims’ friends–and he very quickly figures out that another murder is related. He even hires an alert young prostitute, Mary Ann Monk, to make her own enquiries and observations after she identifies the body of her friend, Mrs. Nichols. However, he is soon frustrated by his lack of progress. The only lead Holmes has come across is the story of an elusive sailor, being sought by a friend who thinks he may have been involved in the first murder, that of Mrs. Nichols.
Soon Holmes and Watson have something else to worry about, for a member of the press is printing details of the crimes unknown to but a few. He has been alleging that Holmes himself may be the murderer.
Faye’s novel is atmospheric and absorbing. Its greatest accomplishment, though, is in successfully capturing the narrative style of Doctor Watson, making us believe that this could be a Holmes story. Although I was about 100 pages ahead of Holmes in solving the murder (which would never happen in a real Holmes story), I still found the solution ingenious as well as the reason why the crimes are recorded in history as unsolved (when, of course, Holmes solved them). This novel is a very good first effort. I have Faye’s next book awaiting me in my pile.