Review – The Notting Hill Mystery – Charles Adams

The Notting Hill Mystery
Charles Adams
ISBN-10: 1464204807
235 pages


The Notting Hill Mystery was first published between 1862 and 1863 as an eight-part serial in the magazine Once a Week, written under the pseudonym Charles Felix. It has been widely described as the first detective novel, pre-dating as it does other novels such as Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868) and Emile Gaboriau’s first Monsieur Lecoq novel (1869) that have previously claimed that accolade. The story is told by insurance investigator Ralph Henderson, who is building a case against the sinister Baron ‘R___’, suspected of murdering his wife in order to obtain significant life insurance payments. Henderson descends into a maze of intrigue including a diabolical mesmerist, kidnapping by gypsies, slow-poisoners, a rich uncle’s will and three murders. Presented in the form of diary entries, family letters, chemical analysis reports, interviews with witnesses and a crime scene map, the novel displays innovative techniques that would not become common features of detective fiction until the 1920s. Now made available again, with George du Maurier’s original illustrations included for the first time since the original serial publication, this new edition of The Notting Hill Mystery will be welcomed by all fans of detective fiction.

The Premise:

The Notting Hill Mystery is, according to the introduction, either the first true detective story or among the first true detective stories, though it departs a little from the type by featuring not a police or private detective, but an insurance investigator, and by presenting all the gathered evidence without presenting the investigation by which the evidence was acquired.

Baron R- has recently insured his wife for a startling sum. Obviously, doubts begin to arise when she does, in fact, die shortly after, apparently by taking poison while sleepwalking. Our investigator is sent to make sense of the event, and through diligent sleuthing, uncovers a bizarre swirl of soap-opera family drama, mesmerism, and, of course, murder. Quite a number of murders, actually.

The Good:

I’m a sucker for the epistolary novel, ever since I read Dracula, and this one is especially well done. Each speaker (or writer, rather) has a distinct and identifiable voice, so that they don’t all run together. Each one sounds like an individual. That added verisimilitude makes you wonder – just once or twice – whether you might not actually be reading a case file rather than a work of fiction.

And, while there is a certain amount of the expected swooning and crying out and running from rooms that Victorian works so frequently exhibit, it doesn’t skew ridiculous even once. I’d say that a woman being eaten alive by a powerful acid has every right to cry out, actually.

The Bad:

The long, convoluted language is a little hard to get through, though not excessively so.

The plot also hinges on some really laughable period “science”. Namely, that the sympathy between twins is so great that you can kill one by poisoning the other. And of course, that you can hypnotize a woman into poisoning herself. << Highlight text for spoilers.

In Conclusion:

It was certainly a very interesting read, if for no other reason than because I enjoyed identifying some of the early earmarks of the nascent genre. The Notting Hill Mystery certainly does differ markedly from the genre it helped create.

I was a little irked when it became apparent that it’s really a paranormal mystery, not because I dislike paranormal mystery but because I was expecting something more grounded in reality. However, once I had reconciled myself to that fact, it was a very enjoyable read. I can’t really fault the book for not being what I expected, especially when it does such a good job of being what it is.

Solid four stars.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Review – The Last Moriarty – Charles Veley

The Last Moriarty
Charles Veley
ISBN-10: 1477829725
287 pages

A lovely young American actress from the D’Oyly Carte Opera Troupe comes to 221B Baker Street on a cold November morning, desperately seeking assistance from Sherlock Holmes. Inexplicably, Holmes agrees to help, even though the Prime Minister of England and his cabinet need Holmes to solve a murder case that could threaten a high-stakes meeting with John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan. The clock is ticking. Holmes will need all his physical and deductive powers to preserve innocent lives and prevent political and economic chaos on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet even Holmes cannot foresee how much the ultimate outcome will depend on a mother’s sacrifice, a daughter’s hopes, and on the true identity of the last Moriarty.

The Premise:
A meeting between captains of industry is threatened. Men connected with the upcoming meeting keep turning up dead, and all signs indicate that a criminal organization on par with the defunct Moriarty gang is responsible. Possibly even the successor of the Moriarty gang, as Colonel Sebastian Moran has escaped from prison, and he had help.
Into the mix is thrown a young actress, Lucy James, whose ties to this shadowy organization grow ever more perplexing and sinister as she enlists Holmes’s help to hunt for her true parents. At the same time, both Miss James’s plight and the murderous plot begin to shed light on Sherlock Holmes’s past.

The Good:
The writing is lovely, and amazingly faithful to the source. It’s very rare to find pastiche that really has the sound and the feel of Conan Doyle’s writing. Watson’s voice is authentic, and at no point was I drawn out of the story by awkwardly modern – or awkwardly Victorian – language.
It is also very well researched, with that strong sense of place that is so essential to mystery and to Holmesian mystery particularly. Well researched without being a treatise on Victoriana. Some works have a tendency to lift passages straight from textbooks, but all of Veley’s references feel natural.
I have to mention the cover, as well. I love the cover. Love it.

The Bad:
Much of the story was, sadly, predictable, and the foreshadowing heavy-handed. Certain twists were not so much hinted as laid out. Nothing ever really surprised me, and the mystery was thin.
I would also have liked more sleuthing, more of the hunting and connecting that ought to characterize Holmes stories. I’d characterize this one more as suspense than mystery, which I suppose is all right, but wasn’t what I was expecting.

Worth Noting:
Veley’s Holmes is an emotional sort. I am not one of those who thinks Holmes should always be an emotionless machine – he shows himself in Canon to feel strongly, though he generally keeps his feelings under tight control. In the context of Veley’s storyline, I feel that the little displays of affection, distress, and concern were entirely appropriate, but I do know that many aficionados would take issue.

In Conclusion:
I enjoyed this one. I finished it in two sittings, which has been an increasingly rare occurrence for me. It did not blow me away, but the end hints at a coming sequel, and I will certainly look for it when it arrives.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.