The Alchemy of Murder
by Carol McCleary
Forge Books
Hardcover – 24.99 (discounts available)

Reviewed by Superwench83.

The Alchemy of Murder by Carol McCleary is one of those high-concept ideas that made me say, “Okay, I have got to read this.” It teams the first woman reporter Nellie Bly of the New York World with the famous French author Jules Verne as they track a mad scientist who is murdering street women in Paris. With legendary microbe hunter Louis Pasteur and the flamboyant Oscar Wilde at their sides, Nellie and Jules work their way through seamy Parisian streets, hospitals, and laboratories in search of the killer Nellie met in New York years before.

Nellie Bly is a perfect protagonist for a story such as this. She may have more enthusiasm than common sense, but she is spirited and strong, a reporter devoted entirely to getting her story. You just can’t help but root for her. A woman who purposefully has herself committed to a notorious insane asylum for the sake of an expose is a character who is sure to keep you guessing page after page. There is just enough character development to keep you invested in the characters, but not enough to bog down the fast-moving plot. It’s a delicate balance, and I think the author handled it quite well.

The setting is also vividly drawn, in all its grittiness. The Alchemy of Murder is set in a time and place which simmers with turmoil and rage. There are people starving and dying on the streets, and the muddled, floundering government has trouble doing anything effective. It’s a breeding ground for discontent, and communist revolutionaries abound—some whose plans go no further than philosophical café conversations, and some who will murder and steal and scheme to bring about their new regime. Combine this already turbulent era with the World’s Fair in Paris, toss in a crazed scientist and a biological weapon, and you’ve got a page turner in classic thriller style.

The only major issue I had with this book was the abundance of typos, misspellings, and improper punctuation…which I know is a silly thing to be upset about, but they were so numerous as to be distracting. It’s actually a trend I’ve noticed in new releases quite a lot these days. It makes me wonder if publishers are cutting back on copyediting to save money in these unstable economic times. It’s only speculation, of course, but I do wonder. The Alchemy of Murder is far from the only new release I’ve read recently with such problems; it was just the final straw, the one which makes me say in a review, “Hey! What gives?” But I digress.

At any rate, The Alchemy of Murder is a thriller with a twist. It combines mystery, history, and science to bring to life beloved figures from the past as they work to stop a madman from causing more death. From the way things ended in this book, I can see more Nellie Bly mysteries to come, following her from one adventure to the next. An exciting read, and I’m sure any subsequent books will be just as satisfying.

Katie Lovett, better known around these parts as Superwench83, is an aspiring novelist and published short fiction author. She blogs about writing, books, and the fantasy genre at her website, www.katie-lovett.com.