Author of the Month

Name: Craig Russell

First Novel: Blood Eagle

Most Recent Book: Hyde

'Highly original and one of the most innovative novels I have read in a long time. '

Synopsis:
Edward Hyde has a strange gift-or a curse-he keeps secret from all but his physician. He experiences two realities, one real, the other a dreamworld state brought on by a neurological condition.

When murders in Victorian Edinburgh echo the ancient Celtic threefold death ritual, Captain Edward Hyde hunts for those responsible. In the process he becomes entangled in a web of Celticist occultism and dark scheming by powerful figures. The answers are there to be found, not just in the real world but in the sinister symbolism of Edward Hyde's ‘Otherworld’.

He must find the killer, or lose his mind. A dark tale. One that inspires Hyde's friend, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Review:
Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has been adapted so many times for the big and small screen, that you must have been living under a rock not to know the rudimentaries of his story. So, I was intrigued when Russell’s book arrived. I wondered where he would take this infamous tale and how he would make it his own. Thankfully, Russell doesn’t tinker with the source material, but gives more a ‘what if…’ scenario to how that kernel of an idea was first embedded in the fruitful imagination of Stevenson.

Russell turns Hyde into the reality and Jekyll the imaginary alter ego. One could not describe Hyde as the ‘hero’, as throughout one is never sure if Hyde is all we are told. He has fugue states, periods of time that go missing from his memory as he slides into the Otherworld. He suffers nightmares and sometimes cannot differentiate between what is real and imagined. The horrific murders that happen across Edinburgh could easily be at Hyde’s hands. He has been known to have violent outbursts. With wonderful dexterity, Russell keeps flipping that coin, showing the two sides to Hyde. In fact, this is a running theme throughout. The question of two entities living in the same body arises along with the two faces of Janus. Are we all in varying degrees more than just one person in a single body? Have we not many of us turned on our public face when all around us falls apart? Russell cranks up this idea of Stevenson’s ‘duality of human nature’ to show the impenetrable darkness that can lie within someone, a ‘beast’, caged within and fighting to get out.

The Victorian age was the infancy of medicine. Doctors were not only beginning to understand the anatomy of the body, but also of the mind. Although a woman could still be thrown in an asylum for being outspoken, psychology was taking baby steps and the brain was the new frontier to be conquered. At the other end of the scale, séances, were also all the rage, the supernatural widely accepted and Russell superbly brings that in to play here, mixing his story with mythology that was still strongly believed and carried down from generation to generation along with those who believe in science. This mythology adds a Gothic element to Hyde’s story. Is Hell’s Black Hound an aberration of Hyde’s condition, is it real or a symbolism of Hyde’s own darkness? With a scent of Conan Doyle’s own Baskerville classic, (plus Dr Bell also makes a cameo), Russell appears to be paying homage to those Scottish writers who opened the doors to the kind of dark fiction many of us enjoy today.

Russell conjures up the Gothic Victorian atmosphere, not just with his descriptions, but even the words he uses, (my dictionary came out more than once). No wonder ‘Hyde’ won the McIlvanney Novel Prize 2021. ‘Hyde’ is eerie, atmospheric, menacing, completely compelling and breath-taking. Highly original and one of the most innovative novels I have read in a long time.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) Congratulations on winning the McIlvanney Prize with your latest novel, ‘Hyde’. This is your second time winning the prize. It is named after William McIlvanney who wrote the Laidlaw trilogy. How important is this body of work to the talent coming out of Scotland in recent years?
Thank you! I really am still struggling to believe that I’ve won it for the second time. It’s a huge, huge honour - especially when you think about the enormous wealth and breadth of writing talent in Scotland. I tend to eschew the whole “Tartan Noir” thing, because it does that variety of talent a disservice. I actually think it does William McIlvanney a disservice too, because his writing was so rich and multi-layered: hard and gritty, yet subtle and nuanced. He was influenced by everything from American Hardboiled to French Existentialism, and his characters had real dimension. So yes, I think his work has been fundamentally influential and inspirational to writers today - and will continue to be so.
2) ‘Hyde’ is a take on the classic by Robert Louis Stevenson first published in 1886. What was the nucleus that grew the idea of writing about Hyde who embedded the myth in Stevenson’s mind?
Although ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is set in London, I’ve always considered it to be the quintessential Scottish story - and I know I’m not alone in that opinion. People talk about Caledonian Antisyzygy - that uniquely Scottish characteristic of holding two polar opposite, apparently contradictory, ideas in their head at the one time without cognitive dissonance. It has been an element in Scottish literature for centuries and found its most famous articulation in the split identities of Jekyll and Hyde. Stevenson’s tale has always been part of my literary and cultural landscape and I really wanted to revisit it - not to do a retelling, but to create something of an “origin story”. The real spark came when I was reading about the poet William Ernest Henley. Henley was a tall, well-built and ebullient man with curling hair and a bushy beard. He had, as a result of childhood tuberculosis, lost one of his legs below the knee. He was also a close friend of Robert Louis Stevenson - who used Henley as his inspiration for the character of Long John Silver in Treasure Island. So my aha! moment was when I thought, “If Stevenson had a friend who inspired Long John Silver, what if he had a friend who inspired the character(s) of Jekyll and Hyde? And that was it! The idea for Hyde fell into my head.

It gave me the creative opportunity I had sought to explore the dichotomies of the Scottish personality, particularly the split mediaeval/Georgian, poor/rich, Old Town/New Town identity of Edinburgh—as well as exploring the divided identity of the Scots at the height of the British Empire.
3) Talking of myths, ‘Hyde’ involves a plethora of Scottish mythology. Did you have to do much research or had much of these tales been told to you as a youngster? Was it fascinating to be involved with this world of grim tales?
Folklore, legend and mythology all tend to feature in much that I write. Even the Fabel series set in Germany had these themes running through them. ‘The Devil Aspect’ was replete with dark Slavic folk myths. With ‘Hyde’, it was strange and nice to visit Scottish folklore. Home turf, you might say. And yes, it’s an interest I have had since childhood. Growing up near Edinburgh, I was familiar from an early age with the tale of Deacon Brodie—and fascinated by it, exactly as Stevenson was.
4) ‘Hyde’, quite rightly is imbued with a Gothic feel, typical of the Victorian era. Séances and anything supernatural was all the rage. This was the time of Bram Stoker and Sheridan Le Fanu who fed into the whole Gothic ethos. Have you been a fan of this time period and is that why you wanted to write a novel during this time?
I love the Gothic - it’s so me. I grew up reading Stoker, Le Fanu, Guy de Maupassant, and, of course, Edgar Allan Poe. I find the late-Victorian era fascinating because there was such a belief in the supernatural and obsession with the occult at exactly the same time as science was casting its light into the darkness like never before. Again, a split identity.
5) You have had a great response for ‘Hyde’ and your previous standalone, ‘The Devil’s Aspect’. I know you have said you’re not finished with either Lennox or Fabel, but are you working on another standalone?
I am working on another standalone. This one is very different, but still has Gothic tones working into a more classic noir form. It’s set in Silent Era Hollywood and revolves around an infamous cursed production: a silent movie described as “the greatest horror movie of all time”. And boy, am I having fun with this one! But I do hope, at some time, to return to Lennox and Fabel.
6) With your experience as a writer, what advice would you give to anyone attempting their first novel?
My advice to any first-time writer would be very clear and unambiguous - and it applies to a second, third or fifteenth book as much as to a first novel. And that is a) never to lose faith in yourself, and b) write the book you would want to read, not what you think - or are being told the market wants. I cannot stress these points enough. As a new writer, you will be given all kinds of advice, from all sources. It is very important that you listen and take note, but only use it to inform your own voice. Always remember that your writing voice is as unique as your speaking voice, you don’t want to sound like everyone else. And ONLY write what you want to write, and make it what you would want to read. Last piece of advice is “write, write, write.” Write every day. It doesn’t matter if you chuck it all away at the end of the day, it’s exercising the muscles you need to complete a novel.
7) Instead of asking you for your favourite three books to take on a desert island, which two or three books have left an impression on you in the past year?
The book that’s made the biggest impact on me in the last year is Cane - Jean Toomer. It explores the African American experience at the beginning of the 20th Century. It’s a bit strange reading like a novel, a collection of short stories, or a volume of prose poetry, depending on where you are in it, but it is beautiful. Toomer’s prose is breath-taking.

I recently re-read Don’t Look Now, selected stories of Daphne Du Maurier and was astonished at the impact her writing had on me again. Brilliantly gothic and deeply disturbing psychological fiction.