Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye

Dust and Shawdow by Lyndsay FayeDust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye takes us back to London and the world of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

Holmes and Watson

We meet our friends Holmes and Watson during the time that Jack the Ripper terrorized London. We can therefore expect to meet these five victims in the book: Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. All were killed between August 31 and November 9, 1888. These five women were most likely all Ripper victims.

Setting the scene

Britain experienced a huge influx of immigrants in the middle of the 19th century. The immigrants added to the already crowded populations in the big cities. The Whitechapel parish in London’s East End was bursting at the seams. With more people, the housing conditions grew worse. Multiple families occupied single family dwellings, the sewer system was not built for that many people, and jobs were scarce. Alcohol and opium took away their sorrows for moments (sometimes for days) but in the end addiction only worsened people’s poverty.

Eleven murders took place between April 3, 1888 – February 13, 1891. The London Metropolitan Police have those murders filed together as the “Whitechapel murders.” However, just because they are filed together doesn’t mean that they all have the same murderer. Opinion is divided but in five cases, most experts believe that Jack the Ripper was responsible. Those are the five women named above.

Jack the Ripper

In May 2019, the results from a new forensic examination of a stained silk shawl found next to Catherine Eddowes’ body were published. The shawl was examined with modern technology. It supposedly has blood and semen stains. Authorities at the time believed that it was Catherine’s shawl and that the stains came from her killer.

Mitochondrial DNA from the shawl was compared to living descendants from both Eddowes and Aaron Kosminski. Kosminski was a barber from Poland. He was a prime suspect at that time. However, many experts question the proper preservation of the shawl, whether we are sure that it indeed belonged to Catherine, how was it handled over time, and why the researchers didn’t publish all their findings and most crucially, their testing methods.

Others who are still searching for the Ripper’s true identity point to the artist Walter Sickert as their prime suspect. If this angle interests you read Patricia Cornwell‘s book Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper—Case Closed. To find out more about Jack the Ripper, do a quick online search and you will find plenty of information.

Faye

Faye wrote a brilliant book explaining the string of crimes by looking at these murders through Holmes’ eyes. One of his most famous quotes is: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” He goes to the extreme here to prove that.

In Dust and Shadow, we follow Holmes and Watson as they try to solve these murders in hopes to prevent more. Mrs. Hudson and of course, Scotland Yard Inspector G. Lestrade weave in and out of the story. If you ever doubted what Holmes means to the Yard, wait till the end. Not giving it away but it is a touching tribute to their relationship.

To expand his circle of associates, Holmes hires Mary Ann Monk who knew one of the first victims. It is a pleasure to see how her character evolves in the story. She sees details that aid Holmes and she earns his respect with her logical approach to the situation.

We see John Watson in action. Not just to catch the Ripper but as a doctor. As Holmes was in the pursuit of the man they thought was the Ripper, he is attacked.

Holmes and Watson set up a neighbourhood watch with the help of a well-connected friend and alert their network. Their analyses turns out to be so spot on that people start to question how they always end up near the crime scene. Thanks to a journalist with a chip on his shoulder, the media and the people turn against Holmes and Watson. But not Lestrade.

We see more emotion and doubt from Watson than from Holmes. This isn’t too surprising however, we have seen a more expressive Holmes in other works. I admire the patience of character Stephen Dunlevy who tells his story for hours on end while Holmes tries to find that one detail that will advance the case.

Faye’s attention to detail makes you see the foggy streets, feel the greasy clothes, smell the unclean glasses and cheap alcohol, and you slip over feces-covered streets turning corners with Holmes and Watson as they run after the Ripper. And then it all stops. Why? You need to read that for yourself. If possible, read the last chapters (26 and onwards) in one sitting. You will not regret it.

The pace is good, the mystery deepens, and the interactions between the characters are well done. Highly recommended reading!

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