By Carol McCleary
Published by Forge
on March 16, 2010
Cover image and synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
This novel presents a fictional account of historical figures working together to solve the mysteries of a killer who is stalking women and a plague afflicting the city of Paris. I wanted to enjoy this book, but I may have had high expectations that could not be met.
Based on the description, I was looking forward to reading what sounded like an exciting mystery, solved by a foursome of historical figures. However, I felt that the story dragged at times, and while the four main characters did work together, it wasn’t as I expected. I would have preferred that the characters spent more time together, particularly with Pasteur, as Bly spent a lot of time with Verne and with Wilde, rather than working in pairs or occasionally a trio.
Because I went long stretches where I would read a few pages and then put the book down for days at a time, I kept forgetting who characters were when I picked it up again. There seemed to be a large number of secondary characters, and I had difficulty tracking who was who as the story progressed.
The premise intrigued me, and I thought that the murder mystery element of the novel was well done, but there seemed to be so much else going on that I found myself skimming paragraphs to find out what happened next in the story. Admittedly, I have not read much historical fiction, but I guess I was expecting the historical aspects to be better woven into the story. At times, I felt as though background historical information was presented dryly. By comparison, I really enjoyed The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl, and I felt that that book integrated the historical setting in such a way that it was interesting to read, rather than cumbersome.
The pacing was slow at times as well, and I found myself wondering why it took so many chapters (70) to tell this story. I suppose I just lost interest at some point, and that made it really difficult to keep reading! I ended up reading three other books after I started this one, because in all honesty I just didn’t want to go on reading this.
However, I have read some great reviews of this book, and I think this is the author’s first novel, and I would certainly read her next one. I think the main reason I struggled with this book is because it started so promisingly: Nellie’s introduction, the background given on her character, and her early encounters with the killer were very well done. Then, however, it seemed to falter. Wilde’s inclusion in this novel confused me, and am still not sure why Nellie was so intent on seeking out Verne to help her. Pasteur’s subplot, however, was well done and I think if the novel had just focused on Bly and Pasteur as the main historical figures, I may have enjoyed it more.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, you might want to give this book a try. I would be curious to know what others think of this book!