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The Devious Dr Jekyll
by Viola Carr
HarperCollins, $15.99, 464pp
Published: October 2015

'The Diabolical Miss Hyde' is surely my favourite novel of the year and I'm unable to think of anything else that comes close. If this first sequel isn't quite up to the same standard, that reflects more on the joyous qualities of its predecessor than any particular failings on its own part, suffering mostly from the inevitability of being the second in a series rather than the first.

The titles suggest a duology, as Dr. Eliza Jekyll and Miss Lizzie Hyde are the only halves of the lead character, continuing on much as before but battling even more for control. The fear of Eliza and jealousy of Lizzie drive much of their relationship, which is neatly escalated here in book two. Yet there's much that's still to be resolved so perhaps Miss Hyde will not only appear diabolical and Dr. Jekyll not merely devious on the shelves in 2016 as the series expands.

Continuation and expansion are definitely the names of the game here. Book two of any series has to expand the scope of book one and, while we never leave London, we're made very aware of what's going on across the Channel. France is apparently moving towards a fresh revolution, with sorcerers and spies spreading their wings to gather support in England. While it seems mostly background, we can't assume that anything Carr brings up doesn't have some other purpose to be there. She's detail-oriented and wicked at weaving more than one web at once, only gradually showing us how they interlock.

Dr. Jekyll, the nominal lead, especially given the title, has found herself less employed than previously, given how the Chopper case wrapped up in the previous book. However, Remy Lafayette, still courting the good doctor, is kind enough to draw her into a new case, investigating a series of grisly murders committed by the Pentacle Killer. This is the backbone of the book, even if proceedings appear to divert us far too often.

Naturally, her alter ego, Miss Hyde, is clearly responsible for many of those diversions but not all of them and what she gets up to does end up relevant once those webs start to weave together. It merely takes a while and so we find ourselves following the book more as a sort of gothic soap opera than a straight mystery. We want to know what this character is doing and that one and the one over there and I for one often got caught up in that ride rather than concentrating on the details of what was happening around it. I've read the first book more than once and revisiting it highlights clever hints and telegraphs that I missed on my initial time through. I'm sure that this will only go double for the second volume in the series.

Some of this has to do with supporting characters, many of whom played a part in the first book but move in and out of focus in the second. I was surprised to find little of the King of Rats in this book but Marcellus Finch comes into his own, accompanied by a long-standing rival, Moriarty Quick. Remy Lafayette brings his brother, Francois, into the story, and Lady Ada Lovelace, the half-machine right hand woman of the Philosopher brings herself. Chief Inspector Reeve continues to be a thorn in Eliza's side, especially after his promotion to that role.

Micah Todd, serial killer once again at large, features strongly, too; though I have to admit that I didn't buy all of Eliza's weaknesses when it comes to Todd. I do get his obsession, which becomes all the more delicious when he's roaming free unconfined by a lunatic asylum's bars; but I don't get hers, or at least not to the degree that I'm clearly supposed to.

Remembering just how much goes on in this book, with new influences, new characters and new plots, I'm surprised to realise that this volume runs almost exactly the same length as its predecessor. It felt like so much more was caught up in the whirlwind of the story that it could easily have run twice as long. If it had, we could have spent more time in the art world, which provides the background for the central murder plot; the burgeoning battles between the Philosopher and the King of Rats; the danger with which Remy flirts by being an enforcer of the Royal Society, given his true nature; and the overtones of sorcery, snake oil and Satanism that pervade a great deal of the book.

There are many textures here, as befits a story that in many ways revolves around art. If the first book was staged with the expressionistic shadows of the gothic horror story, this one's brighter and more impressionistic like a painting. Like such a painting, our eyes catch different things depending on the light and the angle. Gradually we put them together to see the big picture and it's a pleasing sight.

That's not to say that I didn't have problems here and there, even if Dr. Jekyll's odd weakness regarding Micah Todd is the only real flaw. I was rubbed the wrong way by the casting of Ada Lovelace, a revolutionary name in Victorian science, as a villain, even if I'm OK with her boss. Maybe that's just me though. Less personally, some of the many connections seem rather convenient, even if that's surely a restriction of the page count.

Mostly though I left 'The Devious Dr Jekyll' as I found it: wanting more. The first two books were published eight months apart, suggesting that the next episode in this series will be due in June 2016. I'm keen to find out where some of these subplots are going. Are Eliza and Lizzie finally going to sign a truce and work together for their mutual benefit? What's Remy's position going to be in the third book, given what goes down here? Surely the very kingdom will be in turmoil after a few plot progressions including one particular incident of special import, and we know just who would like to enforce some authority. Talking of the Philosopher, how will his war with the King of Rats build? So many stories here, so little time. ~~ Hal C F Astell

Click here to read a review of book 1 - The Diabolical Miss Hyde

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