Craig Russell’s previous novel scared the living daylights out of me, and I determined that was enough. Then he comes up with the idea of playing with theJekyll and Hyde story, and sets his latest in a very gothic Edinburgh with no Jekyll, only Hyde.
Given that I was off to spend a few days in Edinburgh, his was the book with which to begin 20 Books of Summer 2021, and you might have suspected that the novel was stalking me. I passed through Dean Village, Stockbridge, New Town, Princes Street, Arthur’s Seat, and Portobello. Hyde takes in all this and more!
Captain Edward Hyde is a police inspector with a secret. He suffers from a neurological condition – a kind of epilepsy – which causes him to lose time. When he recovers awareness after the first attack in the novel, he finds himself in Dean Village, where a gruesome discovery is about to be made. A corpse, its heart removed, is found hanging upside down from a tree, its head beneath the surface of the Waters of Leith. It bears all the hallmarks of the Celtic threefold death ritual. Hyde’s problem is that he cannot remember what had brought him to the neighbourhood.
He must keep his condition secret as it could cost him his job. He is, therefore, receiving treatment privately from his friend, Dr Samuel Porteous. He is not, however, convinced of its efficacy. When he questions his friend, an argument ensues. The next time Hyde sees Porteous, his friend has become another mutilated corpse.
Meanwhile Elspeth Lockwood, a wealthy heiress, has become involved with the sinister occultist, Frederic Ballor. Her terrifying experiences during Ballor’s ceremonies seem to have unsettled her mind to the extent that she is plagued with demonic visions. When she vanishes into thin air one day, Hyde is tasked with finding her. With tenuous links to Ballor arising in the first case, Hyde hopes that all his investigations will combine, thus proving his own innocence. When he realises he has to find The Deacon (the leader of the cultish sect Elspeth has joined), he hopes that this person will turn out not to be himself. He just cannot be sure …
Russell is once more exploring the Jungian concept of union. A potential for evil resides in the subconscious, and the conscious mind suppresses all memory of the evil done when the subconscious is in control. (Or something like that.) Jung’s theory was developed after Robert Louis Stevenson created the (in)famous Jekyll and Hyde, but it is easy to see its relevance to Stevenson’s protagonist. Where did Stevenson get the idea from? A playful prologue and epilogue provide a witty explanation. The novel itself is gothic romp through 19th-century Edinburgh and an unsettling trip through Celtic myth and legend. Although there were some sections that I found contrived (Elspeth’s extended sojourn underground for example), otherwise clever plotting and misdirection combined with a soupçon of romance and a smidgeon of politics make Hyde an interesting addition to the novels set in Edinburgh bookshelf.
Talking of playfulness – top marks for the nod to the troubled tramline development of recent times.
“It’s the electrification, sir”, explained Mackinley through the hatch. “They’ve got half of Princes Street dug up. I don’t think anything good will come of it, if you ask me. Lightning through wires …”
There’s an author enjoying his job, if ever I read one.