In this debut novel with biographical roots, Reed explores the career and relationships of famous author Robert Louis Stevenson, focusing on the creation of his most famous characters.
As a young man, Louis Stevenson and his friends pursued many of the usual vices. By the time Stevenson is a successful published author, with Treasure Island under his belt, one of his friends is dying of alcoholism. This has a profound impact on Louis, and based on a final visit with Ferrier as well as an intense dream, he writes the first draft of what will become The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s his wife, Fanny, however, who suggests to him that he has the opportunity to create an allegory that can speak to all human experience with addiction; Louis casts the first draft upon the fire and rewrites the story that has fascinated and repelled readers for more than a century. Following this success, Jekyll and Hyde is rewritten for the stage, but the performance coincides with the first brutal Jack the Ripper murders that will soon terrorize London. Feeling responsible for inspiring these crimes, Stevenson joins forces with a literary critic friend to hunt down the man responsible. There is much to like about Reed’s novel: The focus on this most classic study of man’s split nature fascinates, and the description of the setting, especially a dark and seedy London torn by a similar duality, satisfies. However, the novel as a whole and Stevenson in particular are unnecessarily verbose. There are multiple conversations that add little to the story except to prove that Louis Stevenson and his wife and friends were clever people who enjoyed intellectual discussion and verbal fencing. If only the novel had more closely emulated the word count of Stevenson’s masterpiece.
A little less conversation, a little more action, please (as Elvis Presley once begged).