THE MYSTERIOUS LADY LAW by Robert Appleton
Carina Press, 2011, 31,600 words, 9781426891151, eBook, $3.99
This is another quick and entertaining novella-length story from Carina Press–a mystery with a sprinkling of science fiction to keep it interesting.
Julia Bairstow is devastated when she stumbles upon the scene of her sister’s murder, and just as she learns that the police are unable to find any leads, the most successful private detective in London, Lady Harriet Law, offers her assistance without charge. Julia’s new friend, police Constable Al Grant, warns her that Lady Law might not be what she appears, but Julia feels she has no choice but to accept. Julia does not take everything at face value, however, and she’s more than willing to seek out the truth for herself when it appears that she is being deliberately led down the wrong path.
I can say one thing about this story–it surprised me. Appleton throws in a few threads of misdirection to prevent the reader from knowing exactly who to blame for what. Some of my initial predictions turned out to be wrong, but that’s what I get for going into the story with preconceived notions about Lady Law.
In fact, this isn’t the lady detective’s story at all–it’s Julia’s. Lady Law retains her mystery by never having a point of view of her own, and it’s all for the better. The speculations of others were far more interesting to read about and ponder over. She’s a strange individual, loved by half of her countrymen and reviled by the rest, and the intrigue surrounding her is all the more apparent because we can never see what’s going on her head.
At the same time, it would have been interesting to see more of her. Granted, the story is short, but I don’t doubt that it could have benefited from being longer in order to draw out the mystery and to better address the characters. It’s not a necessity by any means—the story is satisfactorily escapist on its own–but I am curious as to what Appleton might have done to lengthen it.
While the science fiction aspect of the novella doesn’t feature heavily in the beginning of the story, with the exception of the drill made to breach the Earth’s crust, it does become important to the solution of the mystery. Revealing exactly what this element is would ruin the ending, however, so I’ll not spoil it, but I did wonder why so few people seemed surprised or skeptical once it was revealed. Everyone took it rather well and had no problem joining the club, as it were. While I understand the reason for writing it this way, I’m not sure it was a realistic response to what was ultimately discovered. Moreover, I’m still bamboozled that Julia was able to figure out exactly how everything happened. I’m not even sure I managed to follow it quite so well, but I suppose I can suspend my disbelief on that one.
As much fun as it was to read this story, there was one thing that I could not abide: the author’s tendency to write out sounds. Click, Brrr, Ring. . . . It reminded me too much of the 1960’s Batman television show for me to take it seriously. Simply saying that something was clicking or ringing is perfectly sufficient and far less jarring to me as I’m reading. Moreover, I’m sure there are more interesting ways of describing the sounds than by listing them.
The Mysterious Lady Law is a light read with mystery, science fiction, and a dash of romance. It’s short enough to read in just a few sittings, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy relaxing with it during your commute and on your lunch breaks.