Jekyll and Hyde

Author Spotlight – Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson is a complicated man whose life was full of interesting tidbits.  Born and raised in Scotland, Stevenson’s father Thomas was a lighthouse engineer.  His uncle David was a lighthouse engineer.  His grandfather Robert was a lighthouse engineer.  So you can probably guess what Stevenson planned on studying when he entered the University of Edinburgh.  Robert, however, had no interest in engineering and soon decided to turn to a life of writing instead.

Stevenson is best known for three novels, and each of them very different from the other:  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Kidnapped, and Treasure Island.  Though both Kidnapped and Treasure Island are tales of boys experiencing grand adventure, they differ in their fundamentals.  Treasure Island always read to me more of an adventure story.  Scary, yes, but fun and exhilarating.  Stevenson meant it as a story for boys to enjoy.  Kidnapped focused on David Balfour reclaiming his legal inheritance.  Though it contains pirates of sort and Alan Breck’s loud character to entertain us, it feels much more adult.  In fact, the questions of the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland enter it into a different commentary all together:  historical fiction and Scottish nationality.  But David is still a boy growing into a young man, much like Jim of Treasure Island.

Perhaps most different is Jekyll and Hyde.  This short novella has been treated with respect nearing on reverence, especially those who are in the crime fiction genre.  Authors such as Ian Rankin will make constant references to it, and even Denise Mina’s work is littered with its influence.  Potentially the best-known story, and yet, hardly anyone I know have ever actually read the novella.  That is the power of a strong, resonating story.  Jekyll and Hyde are names that almost anyone could identify, and characters whose story almost anyone would know.  Obviously, the idea of man’s duality resonates with most of us humans.

The Eilean Ban Lighthouse, designed by Thomas and David Stevenson, near the Isle of Skye. Image credit: me

Stevenson was prone with illness, and so eventually settled in Somoa and the South Pacific for his health.  From there, he wrote haunting island narratives.  South Sea Tales is a collection of short stories,  containing “The Beach of Falesá”, “The Bottle Imp”, and “The Isle of Voices”.  In each, Stevenson explores the darker nature of the men who populate the idyllic islands.  I particularly liked “The Beach of Falesá” as it shows both the horrific nature and kindness of the human spirit.  They are not exhibited in the same being, this time.  Rather, the story follows a battle between two European merchants in the Islands.  One has tried to trick the other into marrying a woman believed to be cursed by the other villagers.  With a cursed woman as his wife, no one will buy from the second merchant.  But he overcomes his trials and loveds his wife, no matter what could be said about her.  Disturbing and touching, it’s a short story that really illustrates Stevenson’s strength:  showing the evil existing beside the good.

Though he died in 1894, Stevenson’s influence and reputation continues to grow.  Now, go read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!


Rebus Series #3 – Tooth and Nail

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Rankin spent two books building a semblance of a pattern, and with Tooth and Nail throws it out a bit.  And yet, this is the book where we really start to see Rebus for what he will become.  Rebus gets a call to go down South, which for a Scot, is not the most pleasant idea.  Wanted in London to help with a serial murderer nicknamed the Wolfman, Rebus is convinced they’ll see him for the sham he is within days.  Except when he arrives in Kings Cross, he hears of the most recent murder and goes straight to the scene of crime.  Working with DI Flight, Rebus becomes invested in the case as if he had been there all along, and some of his ideas lead to major breaks.  While in London, Rebus reconnects with his now 16 year-old daughter (meaning we’re about 4-5 years after Knots and Crosses), his ex-wife, and an attractive psychologist determined to help catch the Wolfman.

There are so many different things to discuss about this book, I’m not quite where to start.  We have again an obsession with Jekyll and Hyde.  This time, the Wolfman embodies Hyde.  Based on the bite marks he leaves on his victims (post-mortem), a dental pathologist creates a possible mold of the Wolfman’s head.  Upon seeing it, DI Flight notes that it looked just as he imagined Hyde.  The face is deformed, because the lower jaw was smaller, more feminine than the upper.  In Knots and Crosses, Rebus sort of imagines himself as Jekyll and Hyde, and the reader is led to see him as Jekyll and Reeve as Hyde – they began the same but became two different men.  With Hide and Seek, the main villain calls himself Hyde, the dual identity claimed and wanted.  And here, in Tooth and Nail, the criminal is given the identity by the police, but also given the Jekyll name because a murderer is not born, but rather prepares himself for the path of death.  One character also notes that the Wolfman likes being the two different people, perhaps reveling in his split personality.  You could say that Rankin has a bit of a predilection for Stevenson’s seminal work.

One thing that I thought was a little different in Rebus’s character was his lack of obsession.  By the end of Hide and Seek, he had seemed to go over the edge, and yet, here he feels a little less so.  Perhaps that is only because he is a new location, and time has reasonably passed since he solved the fight club case.  He does seem to let the case go at times, enjoying a bit of a romance with Lisa Frazer (the aforementioned psychologist), and slightly obsessed with his daughter’s boyfriend.  Actually, for Rebus, he is pretty nonchalant about Wolfman until midway through the book.  Of course, this could be due to his belief that he would be of no help from the beginning.

However, when Rebus does make a few breaks in the case, he begins to go Rogue Rebus.  For those that have read the series, he does this a lot.  This is really the first time that he does things because he believes they’re a better idea, though.  Flight calls Rebus out for a couple of renegade moves, points out that he could work as a team and still get the job done.  While Rebus is embarrassed at this point, I think he also begins to see how his actions are perceived and starts to believe in his own abilities a lot more than in the previous two novels.

I will make one complaint about this book.  The voices were a bit hard to follow.  In Hide and Seek, Rankin switched between Holmes and Rebus (mainly), and the shifts were always easy to follow.  But Tooth and Nail was much less clear-cut.  There were a few times I had to reread to see whose head I was in and from what viewpoint I was examining things.  I honestly prefer only one or two characters to narrate the story, but we jumped from so many different heads it became obnoxious.  I will say that the Wolfman’s head was the best bit – very intriguing to get some view of what made him tick.

For Rebus enthusiasts, we hear of Morris “Big Ger” Cafferty for the first time.  It is mostly a throw-away – Rebus merely has to hightail it to Glasgow to testify against him – but Cafferty becomes a major figure in the Rebus series.  It is very interesting to take note of when and how he is introduced.

There are a lot of great things about Tooth and Nail, but honestly, it is not my favorite Rebus.  Perhaps it is because Rebus is out of the Edinburgh element, or simply because it is only one of the first novels.  Still, it kept me reading late into the night, and I’ve read it before.  Still a great crime fiction read.

Rating: 7.5/10