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McCleary, Carol - 'The Alchemy of Murder'
Paperback: 576 pages (Sep. 2009) Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks ISBN: 0340978414

This is a very unusual first book by this new America-based author which is set mainly in Paris, France after beginning in Philadelphia and then moving onto London, and features real-life journalist Nellie Bly. On the cover it says that this book is a novel of History, Mystery, Science and Murder.

Nellie Bly is a an interesting woman with a great determination to do what she aspires to do regardless of the opposition of the establishment. She decides she wants to be journalist and, by golly, she becomes the first female one on her paper in the year of 1889.

Her sister is killed by a slashing murderer and Nellie promises to hunt him down - travelling to London and then eventually Paris to do so. Paris is celebrating the 1889 World's Fair and the city is also in the grip of an epidemic of Black Fever which is striking down a lot of the poorest people.

The story of the investigation by Nellie Bly into the killer of the many women in her own country and Europe is told in the first person whilst there is another story line told in the third person of Dr Louis Pasteur's hunt for a cure and isolation of the microbes that are causing all the deaths from Black Fever. There was a great belief that the disease was caused by vapours emanating from the sewers. Pasteur was obliged to check this out by going on a guided tour of the sewers and was interested to learn that his guide had worked in the sewer for ten years without a single day of sickness.

As this is an historical mystery the author has decided to spice the story up by including the authors Jules Verne and Oscar Wilde as companions of Nellie. This is the second book I've reviewed recently that featured Oscar Wilde as a character (the first was written by Gyles Brandreth). The two authors are a great help to our heroine. The period detail was very skilfully done with the characters getting in and out of finacres (a sort of horse driven carriage) and other similar references. The first 100 or so pages, when the story and the characters are being introduced were very slow and to relieve the tension there are frequent footnotes from supposedly "The Editors" and in addition there are lots of pen and ink drawings to ensure the reader understands what the author is describing.

The only concern I have is why was the book should be so long, although I suppose the author needed the space to paint the whole background picture of Nellie. All in all, I thought this was a fascinating new book from a talented and exciting new author. I'll certainly look out for her future stories.

Terry Halligan, England
January 2010

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 23/10/2010 19:13