by Robert Louis Stevenson
(excellent; top 30% of SciThri)
Year published: 1886
Category: science thriller; mystery; classic thriller
Tech rating (out of 5):
A lawyer is perplexed and disturbed that his respected friend and client, Dr. Henry Jekyll, has prepared a will leaving his fortune to the repugnant Mr. Edward Hyde, a stranger with a violent temperament and deformed appearance.
I expect there is no need to worry about the spoiler for this plot. The phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” is part of common speech, and most literate adults know it refers to two opposite sides of one person, one good, one evil. But many fewer people have actually read this compact 19th century novelette. You should read it, if for no other reason than it’s remarkably short and you can get it for free on your Kindle.
This book is structured as a mystery/thriller, told from the perspective of a lawyer named Utterson. Utterson’s steady, rational approach to life lends credibility to the strange and ultimately horrifying events he reports. Utterson is a lifelong friend of the famed surgeon Dr. Henry Jekyll, who has some deep, inexplicable association with a mysterious sociopath who goes by the name of Hyde. Utterson believes Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll and tries to persuade Jekyll to confide in him, so that he might help free his friend from this baleful influence. But Jekyll refuses to reveal anything of his relationship with Hyde.
Utterson relates the progression of Hyde’s criminality, and the effect this has on Jekyll. One mystery piles on another as Jekyll breaks his association first with another physician friend, then isolates himself entirely from the outside world. In a climactic scene at the end, Utterson breaches the walls surrounding Jekyll, and learns the truth.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde no doubt provides fodder for intellectual discourse on the moral and psychological nature of humankind. But it’s also a cracking good tale, even if you know the punch line in advance. I categorize Jekyll and Hyde as a science thriller (very old school, of course) because a key plot aspect involves 19th century chemistry and pharmaceuticals. It is also, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a criticism of science meddling in areas traditionally the realm of religion. With the modern era of genomics, this issue is more pertinent than ever.
If you like this book, you’ll enjoy:
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.