The Illusion of Murder

Written by Carol McCleary
Review by Edward James

This is the second book in the adventures of Nellie Bly, ‘America’s first female investigative reporter’. The first book, The Alchemy of Murder, took Nellie to Paris for the Expo where she met, amongst others, Oscar Wilde and Toulouse Lautrec, and fell heavily for Jules Verne. This time she has a less star-studded list of encounters, but none the less meets Sarah Bernhardt and (fleetingly) the Prince of Wales and falls for Frederick Selous, the famous big game hunter.

Nellie’s current assignment is to break the round-the-world record of 80 days set by Jules Verne’s fictional hero, Phineas Fogg. She does it in 72 days and en passant foils a jihadist assassination attempt on the Prince of Wales and unmasks the villains. The plot is ridiculous and so too is Nellie. She is naïve, opinionated, quaintly ignorant of everything outside America, gauche, tactless and a strident, self-righteous feminist – in short a typical female American journalist. Not surprisingly most of the people she meets find her a nuisance and treat her with patronising disdain, which puts the reader on her side despite all her faults. She outwits the villains largely because they fail to take her seriously.

Do not take this book seriously. Most historical novelists and murder/mystery writers take their work very seriously and avoid jokes. The Nellie Bly books are a sustained joke. So far it is enjoyable, but what will happen when she gets older and wiser?