Monday, 2 April 2012

The Alchemy of Murder Carol McCleary

A murder/thriller set in Paris in 1889 with a female investigative reporter who meets Oscar Wilde, Jules Verne and Louis Pasteur en route had potential to be a real page turner yet somehow I found that this and this book just annoyed me.

It turned out that I wasn't the only one as a few of the group actually gave up with the story quite early on. I did finish it but found myself reading it just to get it finished rather than to find out who the murderer was. Everyone of us thought the book was too long. Despite this however I found there were still gaps in the story - how did she get out of the mental asylum??? Why was her encounter with Jack the Ripper condensed to something like 2 pages???

All of this was covered in the first few chapters and because of this we did find the beginning quite disjointed. After reading about Nellies struggles to become an investigative reporter in America we were suddenly whisked to the murky sewers of Paris researching sewer gases with Pasteur.

We were also introduced to the Editors (who the hell were they?), with their random footnotes. It wasn't explained very effectively what was fact and what was fiction which was my biggest problem with the book. I didn't want to have to start researching the life of Oscar Wilde to see if he was ever in Paris and whether there was such a slasher ever working for Pasteur. I didn't understand why McClearly simply didn't add the footnotes instead of creating the editors. They were 'nowt nor something' as I say now and again. The famous people were interesting but distracting and the in jokes (such as imagine ever using any method of transport other than a horse drawn cart, or imagine a time where women will have the vote) were not funny

We also had a problem with Nellie - how realistic was it that she travelled and did as much as she did in the 1880s? Where did her seemingly endless supply of money come from? We were also disappointed that she fell for first man she came into contact with - would she really have done? The detective in her was more instinct which didn't make book great as clues were not there for reader. At the end of the day she was chasing a man with a beard which could have been anyone. She upped sticks to chase him from America to Paris based on nothing more than a rumour of slasher murders and somehow Jack the Ripper also became involved. McCleary didn't make it easy for the reader to believe any of it. I also found that I just didn't warm to her, I didn't care which you need to do.

As a historical book, we enjoyed it - the description of Paris was excellent and I'm sure that the book was well researched but as a murder mystery we didn't care who dunnit, which is vitally important in this genre of book.

We rated it a 5.5 which is one of the lowest scores in a while. Needless to say we wont be reviewing the sequel!