The Jekyll Revelation, by Robert Masello
Mixing history with a bit of fiction, Robert Masello has created a thriller featuring one of the most famous writers of the 19th century with the mystery of Jack the Ripper. The book journeys between late Victorian England and the current century with a journal supposedly written by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The story of the current century centers around Rafael (Rafe) Salazar. Salazar lives and works in Topanga Canyon, a bit north of Santa Monica. He’s an environmental scientist and while at work in the hill country he finds an old steamer trunk. As the story continues we learn that the Stevenson passages come from a journal locked inside the trunk. As Salazar reads through the journal his own life goes through some serious ups and downs. The boyfriend of his beautiful landlady believes he has a claim on the trunk, which Salazar has left at the landlady’s apartment. The boyfriend gets kicked out for increasingly strange behavior and goes to crash with some local hoods who are also running a meth lab in a remote area of the canyon.
The Stevenson story, showing up every other chapter, begins with his stay in Switzerland hoping to be cured of tuberculosis. While there he’s also at work on his book The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The journal story follows him to England where his book is quickly turned into a stage play shortly before the murders by Jack the Ripper begin. Masello says he was inspired to write the book after learning that both Stevenson and the lead actor of the play Richard Mansfield were questioned as possible suspects in the Ripper killings because of the bizarre turns in the book and play. That is true. What this book does is gradually expose the real Ripper.
These details from the 19th century are gradually drawn out of the journal while Salazar begins to realize that a bit of very real Dr. Jekyll potion was also secreted in the trunk, and that it has definitely fallen into the wrong hands.
Masello keeps control of a very broad canvas, especially the exotic 19th century locations that follow Stevenson through Europe, America, and Samoa. He manages to fit a fun thriller into true events of Stevenson’s life and balances that with a modern thriller that Salazar must work through. It works well and is a lot of fun to read with a mixture of modern thriller, mystery, horror story, alternate history, and biography.