There’s an uncanny intersection of fiction and nonfiction in the character of Sherlock Holmes and the case of Jack the Ripper. In fact, stories combining the two make up a significant subset of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. The website Goodreads has a reader contributed list here:
I just finished reading Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye. This is a newer entry into the Holmes/Ripper list, published in 2009. Dust and Shadow is an enjoyable read. For the Sherlockian, it is a credible imitation of Watson’s narrative voice, albeit a little bit precious and artful with the vocabulary. For the fan of Ripper stories, it is an exciting, first person account of the murders, complete with bloody details and a plausible solution to the murderer’s identity.
I’ve been ruminating over why this combination of fictional detective and real-life gruesome murderer fascinates readers. Is it because we believe that Sherlock could have solved the case? Or do we simply want a Victorian match up of good versus evil?
Perhaps it goes deeper than that. Senseless murders such as the Ripper case, and modern mass murderers such as Jeffrey Dahmer or John Gacy fascinate us. I think we are fascinated because we, as lay people and readers, do not understand the psychoses of these people.
Sherlock Holmes is also a fascinating character, and almost as difficult to understand as the Ripper or Dahmer. The modern television incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a “highly functioning sociopath – not a psychopath.” It’s not easy to understand Holmes and his ratiocination.
I think we want more than for Sherlock to just solve the Jack the Ripper case. I think we want Sherlock to explain it to us. How could a person be capable of such barbarity and inhumanity? Could Sherlock tell us that?
Modern mental health practitioners can label psychotic conditions for us, but explaining the why is challenging. Sherlock, with his amazing powers of deduction and reasoning, could be the person to finally explain it all.