McCleary, Carol - 'The Illusion of Murder'
In the first book of the series, THE ALCHEMY OF MURDER, we were introduced to pioneering nineteenth-century journalist Nellie Bly. In this sequel she is attempting to travel round the world in 75 days rather than Jules Verne's 80!
She wanted the challenge as it was very unusual at that time for a woman to work, let alone be a journalist and she has a reputation for doing daring things to impress her boss. She is most famous for an undercover expose in which she faked insanity to study a mental institution from within and subsequently sell even more copies of the newspapers that featured her stories. When she disembarks in Egypt at the mouth of the Suez canal, she is instantly charmed by this ancient land, where the unexplainable is not always unimaginable.
She noticed that another passenger, a rather mysterious European man, had left the ship, by crane, dressed in Egyptian native clothing and she decided this was so curious that she would follow him to discover why he was doing this. He lead her to a street market but here she, rather dramatically, witnessed his tragic murder. Before he dies, he surreptitiously puts a scarab brooch in her dress pocket. Some other passengers were also there and Nellie is astonished by their scornful, adverse reaction which is in complete disagreement with her own impression. They believe she is completely confused and that it was a native that was murdered and not a European passenger dressed as a native. Nellie, goes back to the ship and locates the scarab brooch in her dress and then finds that a secret key is hidden in it. She decides to search the murdered man's cabin, at night, for clues. She is caught in the act by another passenger named Frederick Selous, who works as a big-game hunter and was the inspiration for the hero of Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines. However, he is sympathetic to her concerns and throughout the story is her one ally.
There is a married couple, a Lord and Lady Warton, who seem to be very antagonistic to her all the time but as they as well as Selous and another female passenger are the only Europeans that stay aboard on the round world sailing described so she is obliged to stay in their company a lot of time. The book describes the murder plot, but also devotes a lot of time to Nellie's attempt to beat the record of sailing around the world and her attempts to send details via telegraph to her newspaper office. The story is packed with historical details and humour and is very close to the real life events of the Nellie Bly stories that really occurred although of course without the unfortunate murders. I particularly liked the reference notes from the "editors" and the line drawings which I suppose would have featured in the newspapers that Nellie's adventures would have been featured in.
I enjoyed all the adventures of Nellie Bly in this book and the previous one and hope that the author writes more as I felt very entertained.
Terry Halligan, England