The Illusion of Murder
by Carol McCleary
Cover Artist: Getty Images
Review by Mel Jacob
Forge Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765322043
Date: 12 April 2011 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In The Illusion of Murder reporter Nelly Bly sets sail to beat the record of Jules Verne's fictional Phileas Fogg by circumnavigating the world in 72 days. The mystery begins in Egypt when she witnesses a murder in the marketplace during a stop in Port Said. She holds the dying man in her arms and he utters one word 'Amelia.' Later, she finds he also slipped a scarab into her pocket before he died. This makes her the target of Mahdi terrorists and at odds with the British peer traveling on the same vessel with her. The peer, Lord Warton, insists the man was an Egyptian while Nellie is certain he was British and a missing passenger.
The mystery intensifies when another man insists he met an Englishman on the shore after the murder claiming to be the missing passenger. He and others try to convince Nellie the dead man was not a fellow passenger as she believes. She had seen a passenger in rough clothes disembark and later saw a man in the same clothes on a bike fall and his pants pull up to reveal white skin, the same man she saw die.
The novel mixes real people with fictional ones in the mystery. Among the real people are Sarah Bernhardt, the actress, and Frederick Selous, a renown explorer, hunter, and the model for Haggard's hero in King Solomon's Mine. Unraveling the complex plot to kill an 'important personage' that could somehow affect British ownership of the Suez Canal drives Nellie's investigation and interferes with her effort to complete her race around the world. Several attempts are made on her life and to steal the contents of the scarab.
Nellie's independence and intelligence allows her to assemble seemingly unrelated bits of information to survive and solve the puzzle. An exciting climax provides plenty of excitement.
McCleary mingles real history and a variety of footnotes to provide facts related to the real people, to unfamiliar terms, and to Nellie's career. Most of the mystery is in Nellie's point of view, but at times reflects that of other characters.
This is the second Nellie Bly mystery by McCleary. The first, The Alchemy of Murder, involved a Jack the Ripper killer and a plague in Paris. Others are sure to follow.