By: Rachel McMillan
Merinda Herringford and Jem Watts live for the adventure and excitement of solving mysteries, not living the life of domesticity. Female bachelors of 1910 Toronto are expected to always have a male escort after 6pm and wear their skirts at the “proper length.” Traipsing around in hand-me-down trousers and going undercover to assume the identities of men is not only odd but unsightly. The pair knows their behavior will likely land them in trouble with the Morality Squad, a group of men that haul unruly women off to jail in the hopes of cleaning up the city’s streets.
Despite this danger, Merinda and Jem are undeterred from investigating a young woman’s death that is tied to one of the city’s most powerful men, Tertius Montague, currently running for reelection as mayor. As the story soon gets swept under the rug and the case goes cold, Merinda becomes consumed with figuring out who is behind the murder.
Jem, on the other hand, becomes consumed with entirely different feelings.
Ray DeLuca, writer for the Hog newspaper, is dedicated to investigative journalism that shows powerful people for what they really are, corrupt liars. Accidentally running into a young woman dressed as a homeless man one night, Ray becomes intrigued by the lady so willing to put herself in harms way for the sake of solving a mystery. Jem soon finds herself entangled in the charming Italian’s life, and willingly accepts any help he has to offer in their murder case. Having given up any hope that her life would be filled with romance, Jem must wrestle with her attraction to Ray while keeping her attention focused on helping Merinda.
Just in case you are wondering, yes, the book does play off of Sherlock Holmes and Watson only with female characters. Merinda is the obsessive, mystery-solving detective and Jem is the lovable, though not as intelligent, sidekick. Merinda also constantly references Sherlock while trying to piece together the mystery. So if you are into that sort of thing, there you go.
If I had to describe these characters in one word, I would say “simple.” They don’t change as the book progresses, and they never fix any character flaws. They’re rather flat, and that’s what makes them so charming. Merinda is quirky and ill-mannered, and Jem has the heart of a romantic. That dynamic works quite well for them. I found their story uncomplicated both in ease of reading and in the details of the story.
The simple way that the characters look at the world is what played into the story being so light-hearted, whimsical, and comedic for a murder/mystery. Which probably sounds strange, and let me tell you, it was. That’s largely due to the fact that the book is actually a romance with a murder thrown in. The entire time, the mystery-solving elements of the book took back seat to the romance developing between Jem and Ray. This was emphasized by the way the book mainly made everything from the perspective of Jem while Merinda was off actually solving the murder. Merinda’s life is steeped in logic and Jem’s life is consumed by drama. When the book did go to Merinda’s viewpoint, it often felt jumpy and kind of disjointed. Like I was inside the wrong person’s mind because I was so used to Jem.
The other aspect I thought was so intriguing about the book is how feminist, liberal, and anti-patriarchy it is. Given, the book is set in 1910 but has the sentiments of 2017, those opinions felt both out of place and right at home at the same time. While that attitude is very difficult for me to describe here, just know that our heroines are two independent women who don’t need any men…accept when they do.
I give the author credit for being really good at producing vivid depictions of scenes in the reader’s mind. I had a strong idea of what each character looks like as well as every place I visited with Merinda and Jem. That isn’t always easy to do and can get glossed over in other books, so I appreciated the detail. I also enjoyed how each chapter began with a passage that foreshadowed something happening later. Those hints are clever, and I didn’t pick up on it until several chapters in. If you choose to read this book, pay attention to the opening passages.
All in all if I had to describe my feelings towards this book, I would say I was disappointed with how anti-climactic it was. The reader can see everything developing with the romance from a mile away, and because we spend so much time with Jem on her quest for love, we miss out on Merinda’s process for solving the murder. I won’t give away any details, but essentially we get to the last few chapters of the book and she just explains her theory for everything. We don’t know how she came to her conclusions, we don’t know why, we just know that she somehow knows all these connections, and we take her word for it. That is very frustrating to me because I’m someone who likes to watch the process of figuring things out unravel before me. The reader gets that in a very mind way, but not as much as I had hoped.
If you want to read this as a murder/mystery, you might be disappointed. However, if you want a whimsical romance with a murder attached, this book is for you.
Meh…it was cute.