The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries: Portraits and Poison

Written by J. T. Williams Simone Douglas (illus.)
Review by Valerie Loh

London 1777. Lizzie Sancho, daughter of a teashop owner, and Dido Belle, an heiress living with her aunt and uncle at Kenwood House, have one thing in common: they like to solve mysteries. Georgian London is graphically and skilfully portrayed by a talented author who uses the senses to make the era come alive. The story begins on the evening that the Sancho/Mansfield family portrait is unveiled. When it is stolen, Lizzie and Belle leap into action to try and discover the thief. Events soon turn darker as the connections between art, slavery and kidnapping of free Africans begin to weave their way into the plot. The underground group, the Sons and Daughters of Africa, is trying to rescue snatched people as the Bow Street Runners fail in this task. The abolitionists’ struggle is explained in an accessible read that uses language that today’s generation would understand. The story also continues the search for Mercury, their friend who went missing in book one of the series. Real historical figures are woven into the plot, although it is important to remember this is a work of fiction. The book highlights the power of the men and institutions that stood in the way of true freedom.

This is a very emotional and dramatic storyline which does take some historical liberties by allowing the girls to have far more freedom to go about their sleuthing than their status would have allowed, especially as they were from different social strata. This will not mar the enjoyment of 8–12-year-old readers or prevent them from becoming absorbed in the themes.

Skilfully illustrated by Simone Douglas.