Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries
Not-so-proper young lady Elizabeth Newton has some unusual pursuits for an upperclass miss in 1864. For one, she collects books. For another, she's engaged (albeit unwillingly) to her steward. And the third? She solves mysteries. Using her intelligence and the chemistry training her barrister father gave her, this iron-willed miss is going to prove to the police that the death of Sir Thomas was anything but a suicide.
Someone over at Seven Seas has a definite fondness for mysteries set in Victorian England. The third series to follow that theme – the other two being Young Miss Holmes and Jack the Ripper: Hell Blade – Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries follows the adventures of Miss Elizabeth “Lizzie” Newton and her fiance, Edwin White. Edwin has put his career as a barrister (trial lawyer) on hold to take a position in the Newton household as steward, the man responsible for the hiring, firing, and other maintenance of the household staff. (Actually running the house would be the butler's responsibility and there is some confusion between the two later in the book, although Jeon deserves credit for not calling the valet the butler like so many other series.) Just why he has done this is uncertain, as is his past, although we do receive some tantalizing hints, and Lizzie uses it as an excuse as to why she could not possibly marry him. Despite this, Edwin is supportive of Lizzie's career as a mystery author, and though the two exasperate each other, they clearly have a very close relationship.
This volume covers a single murder which occurs when Lizzie is out visiting a friend. Her friend's brother, Sir Thomas, has recently returned from either the second Opium War or the Bhutan War to find that his fiancee has wed another. He has been holed away in his room reading Goethe and using one of the maids as a model for his portrait of her, and while Lizzie is over, he apparently kills himself. Everyone is convinced that it is a suicide except Lizzie, who leaves her calling card for the police and asks the detective in charge to call upon her. When he comes to her house, Lizzie and Edwin give him a little lesson in detecting.
The logic of the murder, not to mention Lizzie and Edwin's 1864 CSI techniques, are very well presented. Readers who enjoy solving the crime along with the sleuth will be a little disappointed, as not all of the clues are available to us, but the conclusion reached is believable and interesting. Jeon even goes so far as to give us the actual chemical formulas that Lizzie uses, a definite bonus for science fans. The interactions between Lizzie, Edwin, and police inspector Charles B. Grey are at this point a bit shallow, but there is clear potential for them to develop as the series goes on. Simply put, this is a very promising first volume.
Ki-ha Lee's artwork fits almost seamlessly into the world that Hey-jin Jeon evokes. Backgrounds and buildings look appropriately Victorian, albeit sans the plethora of knickknacks popular at the time. (But what a pain to draw, yes?) Clothing has a little more trouble. While Lizzie and the other upper class ladies wear the bell-shaped skirt popular at the time, lady's maid Jane's clothing is from the 1890s. With the skirt widths being so drastically different between the two decades, this is distracting. On the plus side, Lizzie moves as if she is wearing a corset, never bending from the waist and even crouching with her knees out to the sides. Another nice touch is that Lee occasionally uses portraits and photos from the Victorian era when discussing people or developments from history, reminding us that this story takes place in the real world rather than a facsimile thereof.
Using the twin worlds of the upper class and their servants, Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries shows a deft hand with mystery, logic, and setting, as well as giving us the promise of some interesting character relationships. Making use of its 1864 setting to give us scientific advances and a little military history, the story feels firmly rooted in time and place. At this point Lizzie herself is the hardest character to really like, but there is still something about her brashness and unwillingness to conform that makes her appealing. Fans of mystery stories should definitely give this series a try – it does much more right than wrong and looks like it is going places.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Good mystery, interesting character interactions and dynamic. Mostly good period detail.
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