Friday, November 04, 2016
The title drew me first, as I am sure it seduces everyone who has read or knows story of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There is also the added draw, for me as well as others, of a link between Whitechapel, Jack the Ripper, Jekyll, and Hyde. Who has not imagined Robert Louis Stevenson's tale of the heights and depths of which man is capable is a direct link to the murders that continue to horrify us? The detectives of the newly formed Scotland Yard considered Stevenson and the American actor, Richard Mansfield, as suspects. Only a mind so deranged and lost to decency could conjure the fiend, Edward Hyde, and a man steeped in vice like Mansfield could believably portray a doctor willing to severe his soul's evil. If only Bram Stoker, the theater manager where Mansfield became Mr. Hyde every night, had written Dracula around the time of Jack's bloody rampage through Whitechapel in 1888 then Inspector Abberline would have had yet another opportunity to unmask Jack and end the brutal murders. All these machinations and connections are features of a journey into the abyss in Robert Masello's hands.
The Jekyll Revelation has more to offer than speculations about Jack the Ripper and Robert Louis Stevenson's part during those dark times in London. Man's evil is not confined to Whitechapel or the waning days of the 19th century. Evil continues and keeps pace in Topanga Canyon in California where Rafe tags and studies coyotes and their habits during the continuing drought devastating the land. From the rapidly disappearing waters of a lake in the canyon, an old green steamer trunk emerges and inside among the moldering remains of a gentleman's clothes, Rafe finds a diary, the ink faded and barely readable, and a flask in a locked box. The memories are those of Robert Louis Stevenson and tell the story of Stevenson's illness, trek to the snow-bound Alps in Switzerland where he sought a cure for his weak lungs, and the emergence of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson documented some of his works (Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Master of Ballantrae) as well as the brownies that inhabited his sleeping mind.
Life often mirrors art, yet seldom in the exact same manner. Chapter by chapter, Rafe follows where the trail leads, in the past and the present, where he finds clues to unmasking a century-old serial killer and sets the stage for his own nightmare of meth, a motorcycle gang, and a coward ready to tear his life apart.
Masello's prose is tight and clean, but, like many writers, he gives too little space to the women that share the tale. The female characters are written well enough, but seem less substantial than the men who create and perpetuate the murder and mayhem in 1888 and the present. Rafe's guilt is as superficial as the inclusion of the female characters. Even Rafe's outrage is about as believable as Constance Wooldridge's fall from grace. In short, the actions fall short of the mark. The emotions of the villains and the heroes pale in comparison to the rich and varied nuances of the twinned stories as a whole. I imagine a list of the elements of storytelling Masello ticks off one by one, superficially grazing the surface of what could have and should have been a tale to stand proudly alongside the classics. Even though the depth mirrors the level of the shrinking mountain lake, The Jekyll Revelation is riveting and memorable, worth 4/5 stars in my estimation. Masello is a writer worth following.