Top critical review
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A good read but not his best
on 3 December 2011
I am a big fan of Wilkie Collin's work in general. He is certainly the premier writer of "suspense" novels in my opinion, and The Law and the Lady is another example of his usual type of fare. Valeria Woodville discovers her husband has been tried for the murder by poisoning of his first wife, was found "Not proven" in a Scottish court and sets out to prove his innocence of the charge and reassert her husband's good name. Being Collins, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way but it would be wrong to say this is his best work. If you are new to Collins, please start with The Woman in White or The Moonstone, then come to this novel later on as, though it is still an enjoyable read, those other books will show you what a fine writer Collins really was.
I am usually a big fan of Collins's villains as they are general brilliantly written and wonderfully charismatic, for example the wonderful Count Fosco in The Woman in White. I have to say though, I think he over did it a bit in the example in The Law and the Lady. Misserimus Dexter is a little too over the top for modern tastes particularly, given that one of the main features of him is a disfigurement/disability which it is fair to say would be handled much more sensitively by modern writers. The take on Dexter's descent into madness is also not the most politically correct and sensitively handled example you will ever come across. Whilst it is unfair on Collins to blame him for this, given that he is really only reflecting attitudes of the time he was writing, it does make for a little bit of uncomfortable reading now. Still, Dexter as a character is not a text book villain, and does have some redeeming features in which Collins manages to evoke the readers sympathy and round out the character so he is not just a cartoon villain.
Please don't let this put you off the book. If you can suspend your modern sensibilities and read the book for what it is, then it still makes a rollicking good story. I had worked out fairly early on what the answer to the mystery would be - I usually do, so this is no reflection on Collins's abilities at developing suspense - but despite this I still enjoyed this book very much. Valeria is another example of Collins's excellence at creating female characters, an ability which is only rivaled by Trollope in other male writers of the period. She is believed to be the first female detective in a full length novel so was groundbreaking at the time. The structure of the book also appealed to me, with the first part focusing on the reveal to Valeria of her husband's secret, then a mocked up trial transcript where Valeria discovers the facts about the crime, and then her detective work to come to the truth. Some of the later part especially is a bit fanciful to say the least, but if the reader just enjoys the story for what it is then they wont be disappointed.
All in all, not a bad read at all which is well worth picking up for those who are already fans of Collins work.