Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson

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9781441768124: Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson
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In this stunning, painstakingly researched debut mystery, Sherlock Holmes hunts down Jack the Ripper, the world's first serial killer--without the advantage of modern forensics or profiling.

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About the Author:

Lyndsay Faye is the author of critically acclaimed Dust and Shadow and The Gods of Gotham and is featured in The Best American Mystery Stories 2010. A true New Yorker in the sense that she was born elsewhere, she lives in Manhattan with her husband, Gabriel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Two Crimes

It has been argued by those who have so far flattered my attempts to chronicle the life and career of Mr. Sherlock Holmesas to approach them in a scholarly manner that I have often been remiss in the arena of precise chronology. While nodding to kindly meant excuses made for me in regards to hasty handwriting or careless literary agents, I must begin by confessing that my errors, however egregious, were entirely intentional. Holmes' s insistence, not to mention my own natural discretion, often prevented me from maintaining that exactitude so highly prized in a biographer; I have been forced to change the dates of marginal cases to disguise great ones, alter names and circumstances, all the while diligently preserving the core truth of the events, without which there would have been no object in writing anything at all. In this instance, however, any obfuscation would be absurd, as the facts are known not only to the people of London but to the world. I shall therefore set down the entire truth, as it happened to Holmesand to myself, omitting nothing that pertains to the most harrowing series of crimes my illustrious friend and I were ever called upon to solve.

The year of 1888 had already proven significant for Mr. Sherlock Holmes, for it was in that twelvemonth that he performed valuable services for one of the reigning houses of Europe and continued forestalling the activities of Professor James Moriarty, whose hold over London's underworld grew ever more apparent to my friend. Several highly publicized investigations that year displayed Holmes' s remarkable skills to the public, including the appalling affair of the faulty oil lamp, and the matter of Mrs. Victoria Mendosa's mysteriously vanishing thimble and its consequences. My friend's talents, which had once languished in obscure specialism, in that year flamed into the most gratifying notoriety.

Despite the busyness that accompanied Holmes's ever-increasing reputation for omniscience, we found ourselves at home on that evening in early August, the day after Bank Holiday, Holmesperforming chemical analyses of an American snake venom which had recently proven itself a nearly untraceable poison, and I engaged in a perusal of the day's papers. To my delight, the skies above the buildings burned with that most elusive of all elements, the London sun, and a brisk breeze fluttered about the windows (one of which I'd opened as a safeguard against Holmes' s chemical efforts), when an item in the late edition of the Star caught my eye.

"I cannot begin to understand," I said to no one in particular, "what could drive a murderer to such total desecration of the human body."

Holmes, without looking up from his work, remarked, "An argument could be made that the ultimate desecration of the human body is to end its earthly usefulness, which would imply that all murderers share equally that specific charge."

"This is rather beyond the pale. It states here that some poor woman, as yet unidentified, was found stabbed to death in Whitechapel."

"A deplorable, though hardly baffling occurrence. I imagine that she worked the area for food, drink, and daily shelter. Such pitiable unfortunates are particularly likely to inspire crimes of passion in the men with whom they associate."

"She was stabbed twenty times, Holmes."

"And your unassailable medical assessment is that once would have been enough."

"Well, yes," I faltered. "Apparently the villain continued to slash at her long after she was dead, or so the pattern of blood indicates."

The detective smiled. "You are a gentleman of the most sympathetic character, my dear Watson. While you would possibly -- for I have seen you do it -- condone a crime of passion committed in the throes of despair or of vengeance, you can see nothing permissible about such morbid abuse."

"I suppose that expresses it."

"I confess I cannot imagine myself in such a rage as to batter my victim beyond all sense either," he admitted. "Is there anything further?"

"The police know nothing yet."

Holmes sighed and pushed aside his scientific materials. "Would you and I had the power to make all of London safe, my good man, but for the moment, let us leave our musings upon the depths to which our fellow citizens can sink and instead explore whether or not we have time to make a seven-thirty curtain for Brahms's Symphony No. 4 in E Minor at the Royal Albert Hall. My attention was directed to the second-chair cellist by my brother Mycroft, and I should be grateful for your company while I observe the gentleman in his natural habitat."

It took Sherlock Holmesexactlyfive days to complete the affair ofthe second cellist, and once concluded, my friend had the thanks ofthe premier branches of the British government, of which his brotherMycroft was a pivotal member. My own knowledge of MycroftHolmes's exalted occupation was at that time a closely kept secret, for he occasionally engaged his brother upon nationally vital inquiries about which neither Sherlock Holmes nor I ought to have had the slightest inkling. I regret to say, however, that when nothing but the most pedestrian of wrongdoing took place in the following weeks, my friend lapsed into that melancholy torpor which made my own life, not to mention that of our landlady, Mrs. Hudson, taxing in the extreme. Holmesever maintained the opinion that we should abandon him entirely when such a fit was upon him, but as a medical man, I dreaded the sight of his tiny, impeccably kept hypodermic syringe and that momentous stop at the chemist's which promised that my friend would commence to ruin himself for a matter of days or weeks if I did not take any steps to circumvent him. In vain I scanned the papers, and in vain I attempted to convince Holmesthat a woman ought not to be stabbed so very many times, Whitechapel or no. At length I found myself longing, fleetingly and against the dictates of my conscience, for the advent of some sensational misfortune.

I rose early that fateful Saturday, the morning of September the first, and as I sat smoking a pipe after breakfast, Holmes strode into the sitting room, fully dressed and in the process of reading the Daily News. The warmth of his pale complexion announced he had been out, and I noted with relief that his keen gaze betrayed no glimmer of the drug I had come to despise. His chiseled brow furrowed in concentration, he laid the open paper on our dining table and within moments had opened seven or eight other editions to which we subscribed, quickly locating the same story in each and then draping the paper over an article of furniture.

"Good morning, Holmes," I remarked, just as our sitting room seemed in danger of disappearing under the crackling storm of newsprint.

"I've been out," he replied.

"Yes," I returned dryly.

"I hope you have already broken your fast this morning, Watson."

"Whatever do you mean?"

"It appears that the defilement of corpses is a growing industry in Whitechapel. They've found another one, my dear fellow. Abdomen apparently slashed after she was murdered."

"What was the cause of death, then?"

"Her neck was nearly severed."

"Good heavens. Where was she found?"

"In Buck's Row, it seems, which arrested my interest immediately. I imagined the other matter a bizarre aberration, but here is another on its heels."

"The first was bad enough."

"That girl's name was Martha Tabram, and the early report had it wrong: she was stabbed a grand total of thirty-nine times," he stated dispassionately. "Yesterday morning's victim, whose name was apparently Mary Ann Nichols, by all accounts was partially eviscerated."

"Dare I hope you shall look into the matter?" I asked.

"It is hardly within my purview to do so when no one has consul -- "

At that moment, Mrs. Hudson entered and surveyed our newly adorned furnishings with silent cynicism. Our landlady was not in the best of spirits, for Holmes in his devil-may-care humour had used the berry spoon to dissolve chemical elements over his burner, and the disagreement this activity had caused had not yet resolved itself to her satisfaction.

"Gentlemen to see you," she said from the doorway. "Inspector Lestrade and one other. Will you be requiring aught from my cupboards, Mr. Holmes, or have you everything you need?"

"Ha!" Holmes exclaimed. "Lestrade occasionally evinces the most impeccable timing. Indeed no, Mrs. Hudson, I've sufficient cutlery for my purposes. I shall ring if I want anything in the way of a pickle fork. Do show up the inspector, if you will."

With studied dignity, Mrs. Hudson exited. A few moments later Inspector Lestrade and an associate entered the room. Holmesoften had occasion to bemoan the intellect of our hatchet-visaged friend, the lean and dapper little inspector, but Lestrade's diligence commanded our respect even when his utter lack of imagination strained the independent investigator's nerves. On this occasion, Lestrade looked as rumpled and anxious as I had ever seen him. His companion was dressed in dark tweeds, his beard modestly trimmed beneath a more impressive moustache; he had a pale, retiring aspect, and his eyes darted shyly between Holmesand myself.

My friend took them in at a glance. "How are you, Lestrade? We should be delighted to offer you both coffee, or something stronger if required. I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Doctor...?"

"Llewellyn. At your service, sir," our visitor replied with evident disquiet.

"Dr. Llewellyn, I assure you I am at yours. You will excuse my use of your prefix -- you have recently sustained some slight injury to your right hand, and the way in which the dressing is fastened leads me to believe it was secured entirely by the aid of your own left appendage. And yet, the cloth is not of a variety to be found outside a medical facility. I should be shocked to learn our local surgeons have grown so slovenly as to require a gentleman to secure his own bandages."

"You are correct on all counts, sir -- how very extraordinary."

Holmes nodded briefly. "This is my friend and colleague Dr. Watson."

"I am gla...

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