The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Reminiscent of Tim Powers' "secret histories," but without Powers' regrettable tendency to shove all his research into the book whether it's relevant to the story or not. The author weaves together the life of Robert Louis Stevenson; his story of Jekyll and Hyde; the play based on the book; the Jack the Ripper murders, which occurred around the same time; and a modern story, set in California, in which a ranger discovers Stevenson's old diary.
The 19th-century story and the contemporary story, although they have the diary to connect them, don't have too many obvious parallels otherwise, and it feels that the author is just interleaving two extremely tenuously connected narratives in (mostly) alternating chapters. I suppose if you dug hard enough, you would find common themes and ideas.
Neither story, for me, wrapped up particularly satisfactorily. The big reveal was obvious to me long before it became obvious to Stevenson (for, I suppose, believable reasons), and the diary was more of a Maguffin in the modern story than it was something that drove any particular insights for the modern character who read it.
I did enjoy most of the journey, though. The author has an uncommon mastery of the tools of prose, including punctuation, which is refreshing, and a good attention to detail. The chapters set in America, for example, use the usual American convention of double quotation marks, and those told by Stevenson the British convention of single quotation marks, and also British spelling. He does have a couple of slip-ups, referring to a "semester" rather than a "term" at Oxford, and using "dungarees" in the American rather than the British sense in the British narrative (dungarees are two different items of clothing in the two dialects). There are a few other minor glitches, but they are very minor.
Overall, a well-told and interesting story.
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