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Louisa and the Missing Heiress
ISBN: 0451211790
by Anna MacLean
Review by: Kim Wells

5/15/04

This quick, "great-fun-for-summer-beach-or-hammock-read" is a mystery, with Louisa May Alcott as its fictionalized narrator/protagonist. Anna MacLean has done a wonderful job of capturing Alcott's voice and style-- it reads very much like a story Alcott would have written-- and I suspect the real Alcott would have liked it, and maybe even wished she had written it herself. It ends up being like a cross between Little Women's style and the that of the short novels published under her "blood and thunder" psuedonym A.M. Barnard (which I highly recommend also as some of Alcott's most fun-- and maybe even her best-- work).

In the novel--which takes place during the years before Louisa is a young woman and not yet published--she tries to solve a double murder-mystery in which a childhood friend is mixed up. MacLean deftly works in the expected twists and turns, with everyone at one point a suspect, and combined with these typical elements of the detective novel, the frequent name-dropping of the real famous literary names who populated Alcott's Boston and Concord (Emerson! Thoreau! Margaret Fuller!) world make the reading enjoyable. Louisa credits her ability to solve the mystery to her reading of Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (which scholars tend to credit as the very first mystery story ever) and there are a few spots where the scholar turned mystery writer (since Anna MacLean is a college professor) teachs us about some aspect of Victorian history. Yet with these slightly academic and biographical touches, we still find a believable enough character and setting and social scenarios-- in other words, this is no scholarly tract even with its touches of real-life literary history. We are willing led through the story's quick-pacing and smile as we see how even a bold young woman of her time would react to the situations in which she finds herself (including, even, a viewing of a postmorten Victorian autopsy--eat your heart out CSI!)

This is apparently the first in a series of "Louisa May Alcott Mysteries" and the excerpt at the back of my copy promises another fun novel to come. In the reviews/advance praise, there is a quote from John Pratt, the great-great nephew of Louisa May (the real one) that declares "it's great fun, and a page-turner, and it uses the morals and mores of time and place to great effect". I would say that Pratt gets it right in his review, and I would add that if you're a fan of the murder mystery, or of Alcott's work, you will enjoy this novel and series-to-come.

 






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