Monday, August 15, 2016

REVIEW: The Mysterious Lady Law (e-novella) by Robert Appleton

The Mysterious Lady Law is a steampunk thriller. It's published by Carina Press and is 31,600 words long.

No read-alikes this time, because I don't feel like it. Also, the very end of my review includes some spoilers.


This takes place in late 19th century London. Julia works as a waitress and dancer on an airship, while Georgina, her sister, cleans houses. Julia is utterly shocked to come home one evening and find her sister dead. Although Constable Aloysius (Al) Grant gives her as many updates on the case as he's able, there isn't much for him to say. The police keep hitting dead ends.

Just when it looks like Georgy's killer will go free, Lady Harriet Law shows up on Julia's doorstep and offers to take the case pro bono. Julia accepts the offer. After all, Lady Law has a phenomenal success rate, having solved 100% of her 650 cases. It's that same success rate that, in part, inspires Grant's distrust. How does Lady Law come to her conclusions? Why did she offer her services to Julia in particular? And how does the disappearance of Josh, the young assistant of the famed explorer Horace Holly, figure into all of this?

Lady Law was presented as a Holmesian sort of character, except that her one on-page instance of making deductions in a manner similar to Holmes was never closely examined. She simply told Julia “This is what I can conclude about that person way over there, based on this, this, and this detail” and then expected Julia to accept what she said as fact. Julia, to her credit, knew that Lady Law hadn't proved anything, but she decided to keep working with the woman anyway because she didn't have any other options if she wanted to find her sister's killer.

Appleton laid out a lot of reasons for readers to be suspicious of Lady Law. In addition to her lack of proven on-page deductions, no one had ever been able to replicate her leaps of logic, even though her final results always turned out to be correct. Then there was her ridiculous success rate. Absolutely no one is that successful that often. Clearly there was something fishy going on. This being a steampunk story, there seemed to be a couple likely explanations. I rejected one of them early on, and the other one turned out to be Lady Law's secret. So that was kind of disappointing. I had hoped that Appleton would manage to throw something at me that I hadn't even considered.

Because I didn't bother to check the how the publisher had tagged it, I had sort of expected there to be more romance. Instead I got Al Grant acting a bit standoffish towards Julia during their first date, until he suddenly wasn't. It was a bit weird, although I was grateful Appleton didn't push them into bed. Still, it was primarily an okay story. The chase scene in the airship was a bit hard to follow, but I loved the chase scene through the giant mechanical solar system.

The problem was the ending. First, what was the point of everybody coming across the villain while they were engaged in an enthusiastic foursome, complete with a bit of bondage? The person's sexual preferences weren't important to the story at all, so it just gave everyone something to blush over and be shocked by. Second, what the hell was with that ending? How was that a good outcome? “Oh, we'll put this person in prison for doing X, but they can get early parole if they teach a bunch of other people to also do X.” Brilliant. And how do Julia and the rest deal with it all? By leaving everything behind and going to Africa. Where in Africa? I'm going to guess Namibia based on prior mentions in the story and some quick googling of “Ovambo.” Still, would it have killed the author to have mentioned Namibia even once in the epilogue? Instead it was just Africa, over and over. Finally, I wish Appleton had had the good grace to leave the name “Holmes” out of the ending. I assumed he meant Sherlock, and I hated the idea of Sherlock Holmes becoming the protege of a morally bankrupt fake detective like Lady Law.

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