Hyde by Craig Russell

Posted On 1 July 2021

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My Five Word TL:DR Review : Clever reimagining of a classic

Hyde

I read and enjoyed the Devil’s Aspect by Craig Russell just over a couple of years ago, it was a creepy gothic horror story and so when I saw that Russell had written another gothic horror, this time set in Victorian Edinburgh I simply couldn’t resist, and, to be honest, I think I enjoyed this one even more.

This is a very clever story.  It isn’t a retelling of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which is what I was expecting somehow, but it uses the influence of duality, which is the premise of the original classic and spins it into a very dark tale incorporating so much more.  On top of this readers will be familiar with at least a couple of the characters and the interesting ideas, combined with celtic folklore, a gothic setting and a murder mystery all combine to make a really good read.

The pov character is one Captain Edward Hyde.  He’s recently returned from serving in India and is now under the employ of The City of Edinburgh Police.  As the story kicks off we’re immediately thrown into a grisly murder scene where the victim appears to have been thrice murdered.  Hyde doesn’t immediately connect this murder with ancient rituals, he’s a bit pre-occupied given that he cannot remember why he was in fact so close to the crime scene himself.  Hyde suffers from a form of epilepsy that leaves him unable to remember things and to lose time completely.  He begins to worry about being so close to the site where the victim was found.  Is he committing dark deeds when he loses control?  Now on top of this there are a series of strange things happening in the City.  A heiress goes missing, a man is executed for a crime that he is believed innocent, banshees cry, another murder victim is discovered and events point to the resurrection of a strange Dark Guild.  To be honest I’m not going to elaborate further on the plot because there are a number of threads taking place in this one.  Don’t let that worry you as everything comes together really well as events unfold and the tension is ramped up.

What I really liked about this was the central character.  He’s a character that I could sympathise with in that he genuinely didn’t know if he was committing dark crimes.  Hyde is being treated for his epilepsy by his friend Dr Samuel Porteus.  What he is unaware of – although he does start to suspect – is that Porteus is experimenting with the treatments he provides, keen to make a breakthrough he is using Hyde as his own personal experiment. Of course Porteus reassures Hyde that he isn’t capable of such heinous crimes but reading from Hyde’s pov you’re very conscious of his own doubts and concerns and the trouble he has to expend to keep his secret close to his chest.

I think the gothic setting is excellently portrayed and there’s a creeping pervasiveness to the story that leaves your neck feeling prickly – that feeling as though you’re being watched.  I actually picked up the audio version for this one and part read/part listened to this and the audio is so good – and definitely added to the chill factor.

Russell is certainly an author that can write horror.  He has a wonderful ability to conjure up malicious and evil characters and his scenes are just excellently portrayed.  I mean, he doesn’t go overboard with either descriptions or background information but seems to have the ability to make each word really count.

On top of this I think, and I did mention this above, that this is very clever.  We have Hyde of course, working to try and discover the source of evil whilst at the same time not entirely trusting that he isn’t hiding something himself (or should that be Hyding? – sorry).  Hyde is definitely a likeable character, even at the same time that you start to have doubts you can’t help wanting everything to resolve well for him and there’s also a brilliant case of misdirection here which I simply have to applaud.

I don’t think I can say too much without sinking into the world of spoilers.  I really enjoyed this.  I think the only criticism I could level at it would be a slight busyness of plot but the threads all do tie up in the end.  For me, I liked the use of Hyde as a detective, I liked the inclusion of the author of the classic story and I thought there was plenty of food for thought, not only in terms of duality but the inclusion of other real life characters such as Deacon Brodie who apparently Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about in his earlier life.  I was so fascinated by this and the way Brodie’s dual lifestyle was possibly the inspiration for the classic we know today.

I can’t wait to see what this author comes up with next.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the author, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars

The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell

Posted On 21 January 2019

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DevilAspect1.jpgThe Devil Aspect is an intriguing concept and a thought provoking story that involves a gothic setting, a serial killer murdering women in a style reminiscent of Jack the Ripper and a period where Nazi politics were on the rise creating an additional level of tension.  The story takes place in Czechoslovakia during 1935, a period when superstition and ancient folklore still played a prominent part.

The story kicks off in Prague as a young psychiatrist, Victor Kosarek, sets off on a journey that marks a new beginning.  Victor is about to start a position in a progressive asylum that treats the criminally insane.  Well, it treats the six most dangerous minds of the country – no other inmates reside at Hrad Orlu Asylum.  Victor has impressed the asylum with his work on a new technique he’s named the ‘Devil Aspect’ and using his new method he hopes to reveal that these inmates share a common type of evil.   This involves interviewing each of them individually using a form of drug induced hypnosis.  It’s during these interviews that the reader learns of the crimes committed by the six and they’re pretty horrific to say the least.  These sessions however begin to reveal an unexpected aspect to the six that brings with it something quite sinister.

Alongside Victor we also follow the police investigator, Lukas Smolak, who is looking into the brutal deaths of a number of women.  The City is gripped with fear and seems to hold its collective breath waiting to see where ‘Leather Apron’, as the killer has been dubbed, will strike next.  In desperation Lukas seeks the help of the doctors at the Asylum hoping that they can help to shed some light on a case that otherwise has few leads.

I must say that I enjoyed this, it’s not exactly what I’d envisioned to be honest but regardless it was a compelling read that drew me in and kept the pages turning.  I think I’d expected more horror and chills when in actual fact this feels, how to put this, less sensational, more stealthy and, well, clever I suppose.  It definitely had aspects that gave me the shivers, and some of the crimes committed were undoubtedly hideous but this isn’t blood and guts and grisly death, although there is death within the pages, and whilst those deaths are unpleasant, the deaths aren’t gratuitous and the way they’re reported is more in an interview or report style.  This is more the sum of all it’s parts.  We have the asylum, a very old castle that in the past has been the home of some terrible deeds that has left the local villagers in terror of the place.  There’s the growing Nazi movement, there’s the police investigation into the serial killer and then there’s Victor’s work with the inmates.

I thought the writing was really good, we have two points of view in Victor and Lukas and the switches in perspective worked very well and helped in creating a trail of red herrings.  I thought the dialogue was realistic and flowed naturally, in fact the only thing I struggled with a little, initially, was the naming of people and places and their correct pronunciation but I soon came to terms with that or, more to the point, found my own way of saying the words in my head that felt okay – even if I was probably getting things wrong.

The characters are an interesting bunch, I can’t say I absolutely loved them but now that I come to write this review I think that’s probably the author’s intention in that he throws suspicion on more than one person as the story progresses.  Victor is a very brooding character and Lukas has the feeling of an overworked, seen too many horrors, beleaguered detective – they’re not unlikable thankfully but they’re both quite stern or serious – not surprising really given everything. Then of course there are the six inmates of the asylum who relate their dreadful deeds with an indifference that makes them that much more chilling – not a cuddly bunch at all.

In terms of criticisms.  I think this is an ambitious novel. There are quite a few things going on here and at times I think it’s trying to achieve too much.  I think the inclusion of the Nazi elements for example, whilst understandable given the timeframe involved, felt like they should be more of a backdrop.  As it was it felt like those elements were trying hard to insert themselves more firmly in the story and, for me, they became something of a tangent or distraction.  That being said, I think the author was probably aiming for that very distraction, and in fact this is the type of book that you do conclude and feel that you should read again – just to see if you can spot the trail of breadcrumbs.  Not really a criticism – but – I wouldn’t say that I found this particularly scary – but that could just be me.  I found it more a gripping than a chilling read, again, that might have been the distractions leading me astray.

Overall though this was an intriguing read and one that I would really like to read again, if time ever permits.  I didn’t see the ending coming, until almost the reveal jumped out and I’d love to go back and see what I overlooked.  Also, I think this would make a terrific movie!

I received a copy, courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley – for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.