“I’ve never feared any man as much as I fear the man in black. His is an evil that seeks blood in the darkest places of gaslit streets and forgotten alleys. The Alchemist if how I’ve come to think of him…”
The opening paragraph speaks well for the book that is to follow. It is historical, it is at the same time clearly modern, and yet it works.
The speaker of those words is Nellie Bly and she is in Paris as an investigative reporter during the World’s Fair in 1889.
Nellie, we learn, has had a difficult life but she has learned to stand on her own two feet and build a life for herself and her mother. A combination of luck and her own inherent curiosity led her to become a reporter and she has established herself by taking risks and by exploiting the fact that she can goes to places and see things that men cannot.
Along the way Nellie encountered the man she believes to be “The Alchemist”, and it is to track him down that she has come to Paris.
Her investigation is set against not only the World’s Fair but also an epidemic of Black Fever and anarchists plotting to overthrow the government.
Jules Verne and Oscar Wilde became involved in the investigation; Louis Pasteur has a signigicant role to pay; and Toulouse Lautrec and Paul Verlaine put in appearances too.
It sounds ludicrous, and yet Carol McCleary makes it work.
Nellie is a charming heroine, and although she rather too modern, she is a woman you can warm to and such a positive figure than you can easily forgive her for that.
The mystery is well constructed and all of the characters and themes that the author has at her disposal are well used. It is simply and clearly written, making it very easy to fly through the pages.
The story has clearly been well researched, and the line that lies between informing and preaching has been walked well. There were moments when I couldn’t believe the story, but I could never disprove it!
And I didn’t really want to disprove it – the Alchemy of Murder was a wonderfully entertaining journey.
The conclusion lays a clear path for a sequel, and I could easily see this being the start of a very successful series.