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by Craig Russell
Doubleday, September 2021
352 pages
ISBN: 0385544448

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Robert Louis Stevenson's novel THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, being a story about doubles, attracts imitation. In 2014, Daniel Levine published HYDE, a confessional retelling of THE STRANGE CASE from the point of view of the title character(s). Now, veteran suspense novelist Craig Russell has won the McIlvanney Prize, Scotland's award for the year's best crime book, for his spinoff HYDE: A NOVEL.

HYDE begins with a brief encounter between the terminally ill Stevenson, who in search of health and adventure has exiled himself from his native Scotland, and the shadowy Mr. Hyde, who offers him an eminently publishable personal story. As it turns out, Hyde is not a doctor's chemically induced alter ego, but Captain Edward Hyde, Edinburgh police officer. He has a terrible secret: epilepsy, or an ailment very much like it, gives him fits of amnesia. When he has a spell, he cannot remember where he has been nor what he has done. This is an awful problem for an officer of the law to have--especially when a gruesomely dissected and upended body turns up in Edinburgh's streets.

Is the corpse evidence of a ritualistic murder conducted in accordance with an archaic Scottish tradition? For support and expert assistance, Hyde visits his physician, Dr. Samuel Porteous, who has been treating his epilepsy, but soon afterwards, Porteous, too, turns up dead. Are the cases connected—and are they both connected to the upstanding lawman Hyde?

In Russell's suspenseful, detailed storytelling, Hyde's amnesia and self-repression mirror Scotland's and particularly Edinburgh's multiple conflicting identities and forgetting of its ancient past. Hyde's Edinburgh is the kind of urban Gothic labyrinth that Stevenson made London into in THE STRANGE CASE. It is a crowded, opaque city that in some way mirrors Hyde's crowded, opaque psyche. In Edinburgh, Hyde crosses paths with the young physician turned "scribbler" Arthur Conan Doyle, on his way over to England to try to make a living in medicine but itching to write instead.

Hyde consults the brilliant forensic pathologist Dr. Joseph Bell, on faculty at Edinburgh's medical college, whom Stevenson knew and whose investigative methods contributed to Doyle's conceptualization of Sherlock Holmes. Hyde patrols scientific, ultra-rational Edinburgh, home of the medical college. However, the city is constantly disturbed by the irrational. ancient, and pagan, such as the ancient Scottish symbol the triskillion (three-armed curlicue) and the shrieking demon-woman, or banshee. These eruptions of Scotland's repressed, near-forgotten past lead Hyde to a disturbing secret society that might help him to identify the murderer or murderers--unless, of course, the culprit is himself.

At once urban historical thriller, playfully intertextual meditation on Edinburgh's literary legacy, and broad statement about Scottish culture, HYDE is gripping and mesmerizing. It deserves more than one read. In deeply evocative words, with plenty of free-association, Russell builds a complex, compelling, frightening urban maze. You'll want to go back and revisit all the details and spectral doubles that lurk in its shadows yet demand to be remembered.

§ Rebecca Nesvet, of Little River, Wisconsin, teaches English Literature at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, and researches Victorian penny "bloods" and "dreadfuls." She has written for Reviewing the Evidence since 2004.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, September 2021

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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