Debut Review: The Alchemy of Murder


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.


13 thoughts on “Debut Review: The Alchemy of Murder

  1. Thank you for reviewing this, Katie. We have such similar tastes! From your description, I would love this one as well.

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  2. By the way, thanks to Deb for her idea about the bios. She was right; they were much needed and now people cannot possibly confuse Katie’s reviews for one of mine.

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  3. Isn’t it interesting that ebook detractors constantly charge poor copy editing as a major flaw in ebooks, yet this is published by a major house?

    I’ve found similar editing issues with other pubs too. Typos especially are very distracting.

    That aside, I do find the concept wildly intriguing. I love it when science and history intermingle. Thanks for the head’s up on this book.

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  4. That sounds very promising. I like this kind of story. And compared to many other books it is not set in London.
    I could not withstand and added the book immediately to my 2010 to buy list.

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  5. This sounds like a fascinating book–I’ll keep my eye out for it.

    And I agree; it seems like there are more and more mistakes showing up in books that should have been caught by an editor or copy editor. Alas, I’m afraid that your cost-cutting theory is correct.

    Any book can have a mistake or two…my last one had a doozy that I, my production editor, and the proof-reader ALL missed. But when the mistakes are numbered in the dozens, it starts to distract from the quality of the writing. And that is inexcusable.

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  6. Nellie Bly does sound like the perfect protagonist. Since you mentioned a bioweapon, I’m guessing Pasteur’s research comes into the story somehow… Sounds fun.

    Typos and spelling/grammar errors in published novels drive me nuts! I’ve been seeing way more of them lately too. Our society as a whole seems to be valuing good grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., less and less. 😦

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  7. The number of spelling and grammar errors has to get pretty high before I start getting annoyed. What I find more annoying is unlikely or unexplained character motivations–especially when it’s clear that the character only chose to take a particular action to help the plot.

    I recently saw a little girl movie with my daughter that also featured Nellie Bly. The movie was Osie Nash (short for Josie), and Bly was not the only historical cameo.

    I’d love to read this one!

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  8. I think that typos and poor editing go thru cycles. I remember some real bad ones in some Halequins form the 1960’s that Mom found at the library when I was a teenager. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

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    • As in publisher cost-cutting, and then the realization that certain costs should not be cut? Yes, I think you have a point there.

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      • Yes, exactly. They cut costs in editing until they realize that poor editing hurts their reputation and reduces their readership. Then they have to try to repair the damage. {lop-sided Smile}

        At least that’s how it worked with 60’s Harlequin. They cut editing until their reputation was for such poor writing, their reputation took over two decades to recover. {pause}

        I hope that’s an extreme case. I’d say the lack of editing was. The crowning… achievement from that era… as far as I’m concerned was the line, “He realized he didn’t have a leg to stand on, so he went off with his tail between his legs.” The characters even acted like that made sense! {Amused Smile}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

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  9. I am so sorry it took me so long to reply! (Glad to see that there’s so much interest in this book, though.) This has without a doubt been the week and a half from hell. I’m usually online for at least an hour every day, but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to get online since Sunday, and the first time I’ve spent more than five minutes online for about two weeks. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the book!

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