Paris, the capital of Europe and center of world culture. People have gathered to celebrate the 1889 World’s Fair, a spectacular extravaganza dedicated to new industries, scientific discoveries, and global exploration. Its gateway is the soaring Eiffel Tower. But an enigmatic killer stalks the streets, and a virulent plague is striking down Parisians by the thousands.
The world’s most famous reporter – the intrepid Nellie Bly – is convinced that the killings are connected to the epidemic. Hot off another sensational expose, she travels to Paris to hunt down the mysterious man she calls “the Alchemist.” Along the way she enlists the help of a band of colorful characters: science fiction genius Jules Verne, notorious wit and outrageous rogue Oscar Wilde, and the greatest microbe-hunter in history, Louis Pasteur.
This dazzling historical adventure pits Nellie and her friends against one of the most notorious murderers in history. Together they must solve the crime of the century.
Ooof. This is gonna be… tricky.
McCleary uses the real life figures of Nellie Bly (thats her on the right, there) and Jules Verne in her Victorian Murder Mystery. There can be problems with using real people in this way. The main one is this: These were real people. They are inspirations to many, and many readers won’t agree with your interpretation of their character, actions and history. Nellie Bly was a fascinating woman, who got herself incaracerated in a mental asylum in order to better report on the abuses suffered by the women trapped there. She was one of the first female journalists to report on ‘serious’ subjects. And I simply do not believe that she would behave in the way she does in this book. Of course, I don’t know (any more than McCleary does) what her character was like, how she thought and what she would do in a situation like the one in The Alchemy of Murder, but that is the problem. When you write using characters you make up, you as the author can reasonably expect your readers to think you know the charcters better than they do. When you write using a real person, you can’t.
Right. Ok. Done.
So, this is actually a pretty bad book. It’s not written very well – there are constant, ham-fisted interjections of historical context, which would have been better had the author used some subtlety. It is clumsy, the prose is all over the place. The characters are interchangeable, they constantly use anachronisms and there is this irritating, nod-and-wink knowingness that keeps pointing out ‘look these are famous people you know what’s going to happen!’. I found the plot confusing and unbelievable.
But, oh. I consumed it. I ripped through it. I read it and then I read it again. I don’t know why. It’s so bad, but because it is bloody addictive I have to give it 3 out of 5 even if it doesn’t deserve it.
Oh god I’m part of the problem.
- A Nineteenth Century “Amazing Race”: Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman (floridareader.wordpress.com)
- Brave woman file: Nellie Bly (thebravewomanproject.wordpress.com)