The Alchemy of Murder – Carol McCleary
Hodder & Stoughton, 2009
Pioneering American journalist Nellie Bly is not a woman to be held back by the boundaries expected of a late 19th century lady. Following the trail of a sadistic killer across three countries, she arrives in Paris during the 1889 World Fair, a time when the wealthy display their glory on the world stage, the poor are ravaged by a mystery influenza, and the rising force of anarchists drives both sides to dangerous extremes. If she is to catch her man, Nellie must take the most outrageous of risks – but there is more than one enemy in Paris determined that she will not tell her story.
Nellie Bly was a real woman and several other characters in The Alchemy of Murder are likewise significant figures of the day, but the book is introduced as her secret journal and there are no end notes separating history from fiction, so it’s irritatingly difficult to know what is based on fact and what is not. I ended up just reading it as straight fiction. Nellie is a competent protagonist, though not as layered as I would have liked, and given the premise of the plot, I expected to enjoy this book more than I actually did. It was slowed down at times by too much exposition and veered too far into incredulity for my taste, with a villain who did not quite make sense. There were some interesting twists, though, and I can’t say for sure without my own research that any of the more bizarre events did not take place. Nellie Bly’s adventures continue in a sequel, The Illusion of Murder.