Sherlock Holmes has always been in good literary company. He comes from an age that gave us Dorian Gray, Count Dracula, Dr. Jekyll (or should we call him Mr. Hyde?), a number of Vernian and Wellian scientists, and authors that may as well have been literary figures themselves. Sometimes those characters stroll from book to book, erasing the boundaries between fictional creations as they mingle on the pages of adaptations and pastiches. Such is often the case with Sherlock Holmes: he is famously unable to stay on his own page, much to Doyle’s chagrin (the unfortunate author received many letters addressed to “Sherlock Holmes”), and this time, he’s strolled his way into Stevenson’s Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde.
Have you ever wondered whether Holmes would be able to crack the strange case of Dr. Jekyll’s other half, or does Stevenson’s science resemble the supernatural too much for Holmes reason to uncover the mystery? That is the premise of Loren D. Estleman’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, one of a number of novels making up the Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and it’s such a fine work that it could almost take its place in the canon of Holmes stories penned by Doyle himself.
The book begins, as so many Holmes sequels these days do, with a prologue outlining the discovery of yet another manuscript of yet another Holmes story (this one has the merit of both ingenuity and believability), followed by Watson’s almost customary explanation of his reasons for finally telling this tale (as we know from canon, the good doctor is an utter gentleman who does not reveal the secrets of clients, and that is why we had to wait so long for this story).
Finally, we get to the story: a friend of the respectable Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Utterson, comes to seek out Holmes in order to delve into the mystery of why said respectable doctor has placed too much trust into the roguish and possibly criminal Mr. Hyde. It is entirely in keeping with the Victorian sensibilities of the period portrayed and with the Holmes canon for the story to unravel this way: even in Stevenson’s tale, the natural assumption is blackmail, and Utterson’s desire to seek out a detective to get to the bottom of the case reads believably. And thus begins the case.
Of course, unless one has been living under a rock since the late 19th century, one obviously knows that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are, indeed, the same person (or, to be more accurate, two aspects of the same being). This brings the novel dangerously close to being a murder mystery whose murderer is evident on the first page; it’s a mystery story whose solution is obvious to the reader but not the greatest detective mind fiction has ever produced. It’s a tricky proposition to tell this kind of mystery well, and Mr. Estleman manages admirably.