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The Alchemy of Murder [Paperback]

Carol McCleary
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Sep 2009
Paris 1889.

The Alchemist is how I've come to think of him; he has a passion for the dark side of knowledge, mixing murder and madness with science.

Nellie Bly - reporter, feminist and amateur detective - is in Paris on the trail of an enigmatic killer. The city is a dangerous place: an epidemic of Black Fever rages, anarchists plot to overthrow the government and a murderer preys on the prostitutes who haunt the streets of Montmartre. But it is also a city of culture, a magnet for artists and men of science and letters. Can the combined genius of Oscar Wilde, Jules Verne and Louis Pasteur help Nellie prove a match for Jack the Ripper?

Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks; First Thus edition (3 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340978414
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340978412
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.8 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,112,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Packed with historical detail and humour' (Elle)

'Meet Nellie Bly, America's first female investigative reporter. She's feisty, funny, opinionated, persistent, and as tough as any male she meets. She has to be, because in The Alchemy of Murder, she's swept through a tale of peril and pursuit that is sure to keep you turning pages long after you should have been asleep. You'll find yourself on the mean streets of nineteenth century New York, in Victorian London and in Paris as the Eiffel Tower rises and deadly things - men and microbes - stalk the streets. It is a dazzling entertainment, so well constructed - and it has Oscar Wilde too!' (William Martin)

'Meet Nelly Bly, investigative reporter, self-assured, gutsy and funny, in her first outing. THE ALCHEMY OF MURDER is a brilliant debut full of historical detail and peril which will entertain you right till the last page. Can't wait to read more of her adventures' (David Headley)

'Carol McCleary does for the City of Light what Ann Perry has done for Victorian London and what The Alienist did for 19th century New York. A gripping, atmospheric, electrifying masterwork!' (Barbara Wood)

About the Author

Carol McCleary was born in Seoul, Korea and lived in Hong Kong, Japan and the Philippines before settling in the USA. She now lives on Cape Cod in an antique house. The Alchemy of Murder is her first novel and she is currently working on Nellie Bly's next adventure.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
"I've never feared any man as much as I fear the man in black. His is an evil that seeks blood in the darkest places of gaslit streets and forgotten alleys. The Alchemist if how I've come to think of him..."

The opening paragraph speaks well for the book that is to follow. It is historical, it is at the same time clearly modern, and yet it works.

The speaker of those words is Nellie Bly and she is in Paris as an investigative reporter during the World's Fair in 1889.

Nellie, we learn, has had a difficult life but she has learned to stand on her own two feet and build a life for herself and her mother. A combination of luck and her own inherent curiosity led her to become a reporter and she has established herself by taking risks and by exploiting the fact that she can goes to places and see things that men cannot.

Along the way Nellie encountered the man she believes to be "The Alchemist", and it is to track him down that she has come to Paris.

Her investigation is set against not only the World's Fair but also an epidemic of Black Fever and anarchists plotting to overthrow the government.

Jules Verne and Oscar Wilde became involved in the investigation; Louis Pasteur has a signigicant role to pay; and Toulouse Lautrec and Paul Verlaine put in appearances too.

It sounds ludicrous, and yet Carol McCleary makes it work.

Nellie is a charming heroine, and although she rather too modern, she is a woman you can warm to and such a positive figure than you can easily forgive her for that.

The mystery is well constructed and all of the characters and themes that the author has at her disposal are well used. It is simply and clearly written, making it very easy to fly through the pages.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This Got Rather Silly 2 Oct 2009
When I started reading this book I thought I had hit upon an absolute gem - but I was wrong. At first I thought that McCleary's heroin Nellie Bly was a character from her own pen. But then I found that Nellie actually existed and the majority of the first 80 pages are a description in novel form of this investigative journalist's life, fighting for equality and the rights of women. It is an excellent insight into the times and the way she forces her way into newspapers as a campaigning journalist, even going to the lengths of getting herself committed to an infamous American lunatic asylum to write a piece on the treatment of women there. So far so good.

Then the book sadly goes off the rails. We skip over the interesting parts of Nellie's career, tossing aside how she made it out of the asylum and we embark on a silly murder hunt that is quite obviously fictional and takes her to Paris of the late 19th century on the trail of a man who slashes and kills women.
The book does give an evocative feel of Paris in the grip of anarchists, Black Fever and squalid living conditions. But the book has a major flaw and I have the same kind of problem with it as I had with Jed Rubenfeld's The Interpretation of Murder. Both weave a fictitious plot around real famous people. In the case of this book we have Nellie Bly, Jules Verne, Oscar Wilde, Toulouse Lautrec and Louis Pasteur who all come together in some kind of literary/medical murder solving club. It's plainly quite silly.

There is also a limit to the number of times you can enjoy a joke of the "it'll never catch on" when talking about ideas of items that are now taken for granted in the modern world. Things like who wants to have noisy, smelly machinery when there are horses.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superb historical mystery 19 Mar 2010
By Harriet Klausner - Published on
In 1885 Nellie Bly began her reporting career at the Pittsburgh Dispatch after reading an inane article about a woman being at fault for a man assaulting her. Two years later, she travels to New York where she seeks a journalist position at the New York World, but the Gotham newspaper Gods rejected her. She sells the idea of going undercover as a woman committed to the notorious Blackwell's Island Asylum for ten days; Mr. Pulitzer and his managing editor Mr. Cockerill are stunned but accept.

However, once inside as a mad woman, she realizes that Dr. Blum was murdering New York prostitutes. Pulitzer showed no interest, but Nellie was hired for other undercover exposés. She soon learns of a serial killer in Whitechapel London using the name Jack. She went there after Ripper, but failed to catch him. She soon follows the homicide trail to Paris where the World's Fair introduces the Eiffel Tower while a plague kills many residents, but the killer remains loose. She meets Jules Verne, Oscar Wilde and Louis Pasteur while stalking a psychopath.

This is a superb historical mystery told in the first person by the intrepid heroine. Her obsessive hunt for the prostitute killer spans two continents and several years as the audience obtains a feel for time and place. The two literary greats seem a bit forced into the plot although both assist the intrepid reporter and enhance the era; on the other hand Pasteur is a great inclusion especially his tour of the Paris sewers. Filled with drawings to better describe some of the happenings, readers will enjoy the escapades of four famous people trying to solve the serial murder crimes of the late nineteenth century.

Harriet Klausner
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not well written 27 Mar 2011
By Megan Lilies - Published on
I must not have read the same book as the other reviewers on Amazon because this book was a complete mess. The writing style is awkward and switches around between first and third person perspectives, with little notes from "the editors" on many of the pages. I "get" it, and I know what the author is trying to achieve but for me it just didn't feel very polished. Story is pretty predictable and the inclusion of historical figures felt more like a gimmick than anything. Overall, unless you're a mystery buff, pass on this.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars so so mystery 13 July 2011
By D. Dubuque - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Wanted to like this more because I love historical mysteries. But both protagonist and antagonist were portrayed in exaggerated ways - SO evil and the ONLY person who knows the truth. Just could not like Nellie Bly as portrayed here. She was so stupid and willful at times and just like in some horror movies you want to say "don't do that", but she does. The historical characters seemed gimmicky except perhaps Jules Verne. The evil antagonist was SO evil he is nearly the anitchrist, having assasinated the Russian czar, was Jack the Ripper, etc. Book was too long considering Nellie's personality and the excessive exaggerated evil of her opponent.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Alchmy of Murder 8 April 2010
By Michelle L. Mashoke - Published on
I absolutely loved this book and would recommend it to all. I don't generally read for pleasure, but with this book I could not put it down. In fact I read it in 2 days! From the very first chapter, I was just hooked. It was exciting, adventurous and interesting...I couldn't tell which parts were history and which were fiction. As an independent woman I could really relate to Nellie.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Death and Murder 3 Feb 2011
By Irishgal - Published on
Nellie Bly is an American journalist who is determined to prove that women can have careers as important and successful as those of men. While undercover at a mental hospital in New York, she encounters a German doctor who murders her roommate, Josephine. Nellie is convinced that this same man has traveled around the world, killing other women, and is currently in Paris where the 1889 World's Exposition is taking place.

In Paris, a terrible disease known as the Black Fever is spreading throughout the city. It is hitting poorer areas harder than the wealthier sections of town, but those in the government want to keep the contagion a secret. If the world knew of the epidemic, the country's economy and tourism due to the Exposition, would be destroyed. They have several of the greatest minds of the age, including famed chemist Louis Pasteur, working on discovering how the disease is being spread.

When Nellie is arrested in Paris after witnessing the murder of a young woman, she is convinced that it is the same killer who killed Josephine in New York several years earlier. However, the police aren't taking her seriously. She decides to enlist the help of novelist Jules Verne to assit her in investigating what she is calling the "slasher" killings. Together, the duo quickly become entangled in the mystery of the Black Fever. Is the disease related to the killings? How exactly is this disease being spread? And why can it not be seen through a microscope?

With a cast of colorful characters like Oscar Wilde and Nellie herself, Carol McCleary's Victorian mystery, "The Alchemy of Murder", is an interesting blend of fact and fiction. And while it was a little rough in patches (some of the scenarios are just a little too 21st century), I am looking forward to reading more from this talented author.
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