by Carol McCleary
As I've noted before, there's something about the Moors that I find an appealing setting for a novel. Which was what first drew me to Carol McCleary's The Formula for Murder. When I found out that it was a historical mystery that paired real-life reporter Nellie Bly with the likes of H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle I have to admit that I was a bit put off by what seemed like a gimmicky Superheroes of Literature type premise.
But since I already had the book in hand I thought I might as well give it a try and I'm glad that I did. McCleary has apparently written three of these Nellie Bly books in all and they all seem to take a similar approach in teaming the famed muckraking reporter with other well-known personalities of the day.
This one doesn't quite count as a whodunit, for my money, but there's a pretty interesting mystery at the heart of it all. It kicks off with a rather gritty scene that finds Bly in a morgue in London identifying the corpse of a young female colleague. McCleary doesn't really pull any punches here or anywhere else in the book and she provides an interesting perspective on the life of a female reporter in an age when that sort of thing wasn't really done.
As for the mystery, you could safely say that there are some elements of pulp fiction here, with a mad scientist, of sorts, doing some of those unholy experiments that mad scientists always seem to dabble in. As for the guest stars, H.G. Wells - who is not yet a popular writer - gets the most screen time. Wilde, not surprisingly, is a likable rogue with no apparent concern for what anyone else in the world thinks of him. Conan Doyle only makes a few brief appearances, but when he does he more or less serves as the anchor of this diverse group.
Trivia fans, take note. The real Nellie Bly apparently tried her hand at mystery fiction, with The Mystery of Central Park, which was published in 1889.