Elementary, my dear Watson!
—apocryphal; attributed to Sherlock Holmes
But what if that manuscript survived? What if Stevenson never burnt it at all? What if the manuscript came into someone else’s possession? That is the situation created by René Reouven in his book Élémentaire mon cher Holmes (Elementary, My Dear Holmes). And in this novel, we learn that the first draft of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a manuscript of such concentrated evil that anyone who reads it becomes a murderer…
This is a glorious set-up for a story, and all of its potential is exploited. The novel is divided into three parts (as well as an introduction and an epilogue). Each part chronicles the manuscript’s journey from one owner to another, done in reverse chronological order. The most recent owner is a notorious real-life poisoner, and the hunt for him forms part I of the novel. Part II concerns itself with another set of crimes, committed by someone else. And in part III, we meet the most famous owner of the manuscript, someone better known by his nickname: “Jack the Ripper”.
One thing is bizarre about this novel, especially for Sherlockian literature: Holmes himself never appears. He is just a fictional character on a page. And yet without Holmes, this novel would have been impossible. This neatly ties in to the idea of a manuscript turning people into murderers. This forms a theme central to the book: fiction has the power to change our lives. And just like Stevenson’s book has turned people into murderers, Holmes inspires people to take up his mantra and solve real-life crimes. Our main viewpoint character is the man who (according to Adrian Conan Doyle) inspired Dr. Watson, and he plays a role very similar to the one Watson might have played in a straightforward pastiche. It all comes together at the end, where everything adds up and makes sense. It might not seem like it at first glance, but Elementary, My Dear Holmes is very much a part of Holmesian literature.
Note: The novel was originally published in 1982 under the penname “Albert Davidson”. The theory behind this move was that a book published under an English-sounding name would sell better to the French public. René Reouven’s second name being Albert, and his father’s name being David, the penname “Albert Davidson” was coined.