Nellie Bly is a free-spirited woman. Anything a man can do, she can do as least as good and she won’t stop at anything to prove it.
This doesn’t sound too strange, were it not that she lived in the United States of the turn of the century, where the social situation of women wasn’t exactly what it is now.
In The Alchemy of Murder, Bly is an investigative reporter working for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. After going undercover in a mental asylum for a story, she encounters a slasher who is responsible for the murder of a dear friend of hers.
This is the start of a daring trip across the Atlantic, where she finds Paris consumed by not just the glamour and excitement of the World’s Fair, but also by a deadly Black Fever. It is a dangerous and dark Paris, consumed by civil unrest and the Bohemian free-spiritness of Montmartre.
And it is exactly here that the narrative unfolds into a brilliant detective novel that will keep you in its grasp until the very end of the book.
Bly is determined to see justice served and she will do so aided by several great men of modern history, including Louis Pasteur, Jules Verne and Oscar Wilde. Their combined skill links all events together into one mad dash to prevent Paris from succumbing to anarchist warfare and an unstoppable epidemic.
The book is thoroughly entertaining and innovative in its mix of historical characters and fictional events. It is fast-paced and written with the flair that one would expect from an adventure set in this period. There is romance, drama and suspense, made all the more pleasant a read by the meticulous attention for history the author demonstrates. She represents these historical characters with great skill and a fine touch of imagination.
While no steampunk novel, The Alchemy of Murder has all the elements celebrated by the culture and for that reason alone should be added to the literary wishlist of every genre enthusiast.
Even the inside imagery is a fabulous choice. Instead of using a contemporary illustrator, the pictures are by Edouard Cucuel, dated 1900, which really adds to the feel of the novel.
To make a long story short: it is an absolute must-read that will keep you in its grasp from the beginning to the very end, then leaves you wanting for more and in total expectation of the next adventure of Nellie Bly!
This story first appeared in Gatehouse Gazette 9 (November 2009), p. 5, with the headline “The Alchemy of Murder”.