The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello - a review
Robert Louis Stevenson was one of my favourite authors growing up. I remember summer vacations with my nose buried in old volumes of 'Kidnapped', 'Treasure Island' and 'Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'. Perhaps that is why the title of Robert Masello's novel 'The Jekyll Revelation' appealed to me.
The novel primarily follows an environmentalist named Rafael Salazar, who finds one of Stevenson's journals while on a routine patrol of the Topanga Canyon. Through the journal entries, the identity of Jack the Ripper, who plagued Whitechapel in 1888 is revealed. They also discuss Stevenson's inner turmoil during the creation of the Dr. Jekyll's brutish alter-ego.
It is slow reading, at least at first. The tempo picks up after about a quarter of the book. After that it is more or less smooth sailing. The narrative jumps seamlessly from Victorian London to present day California and back, adding intrigue to already interesting plot points including medical experimentation with a questionable ethical basis, multiple antagonists and even a revenge plot. I would characterise this novel as a sedate thriller.
Some of the characters, however, came across as a little two-dimensional and redundant. There is nothing new about an heiress (Miranda) turning her back on family money to pursue a new-age artist's hippie life. I felt the same about Lucy, who, I suppose, was created to add another layer to Rafe's characteristic gloom. My favourite character is Fanny, a persona with many levels, as wife, mother and above all, a strong and opinionated woman.
The history buff in me quite enjoyed the back and forth from 19th to 21st centuries. Some of the language in the journal entries worried me a little (e.g., calling Fanny Stevenson 'tawny' or 'squaw' by virtue of her native American blood, homophobic slurs about Oscar Wilde etc). But I suppose that was something characteristic to that period and time, when civilised society was barbaric by current definitions. Not that we have changed considerably, but we are on our way!
The premise of tying a historical figure to fiction has long been explored by many writers. It is entertaining, no doubt. But it did leave me wondering at the propriety of naming an actual historical (?) figure as the elusive serial killer, especially one who was a writer in his own right, even co-authoring a few of Stevenson's books. So calling him out as Jack the Ripper, is that slander, or just fiction?