Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lizzie Newton Victorian Mysteries, Volume 1 & 2

Lizzie Newton Victorian Mysteries, Volume 1
Lizzie Newton Victorian Mysteries, Volume 2
Hey-Jin Jeon (story) & Kiha Lee (art)
Seven Seas, 2012/2013
$11.99/$19.99, Softcover
978-1935934806 / 978-1937867089

Genre: Graphic Novels, Mysteries
Age: 12+
Description: Set in 1864 London (while Sherlock Holmes himself is just a young boy), Elizabeth “Lizzie” Newton leads a bit of a strange life for a young girl (she’s about 19-22 ish). Unbeknownst to society, she is author “Logica Docens” the supposedly male author of the very popular serial in Gentlemen’s Own called McMorning, Private Tutor and Sleuth, a short story series (similar to Sherlock Holmes) about a private tutor (who I think is a girl—it’s not really clear) who solves mysteries that the police fail to crack. Her stories are so successful because of Lizzie’s own deductive skills. Lizzie also loves books (she spends way too much money in used bookstores) and she extends on her late father’s own prize library. She also likes to conduct chemical experiments because they help in her writing. However, everyone around her thinks she should act more like a lady and settle down and marry her long-term fiancĂ©, Edwin White. White was adopted as a young child by Lizzie’s father and molded into his son-he-never-had. White grew up to be a successful lawyer who earned the nickname of “The White Devil of the Courtroom.” Once Lizzie’s father died, he agreed to leave his job behind instead acting as Lizzie’s steward (a much lower class role) to be closer to her. The series revolves around Lizzie and Edward as they try to solve mysteries and how Lizzie is constantly thwarted due to many of the other characters’ (especially the males) sexist attitudes toward her. Chief amongst the supporting characters are Charles Gray, the most competent policeman (who Lizzie tends to foil in his mystery solving skills), and Andrew Kenneth, Lizzie’s publisher at Gentlemen’s Own who despises all women. In the first volume, Lizzie takes on the classic “locked room” mystery when an important political person supposedly commits suicide. In the second volume, Andrew finds a rare book with a coded message and he and Lizzie make a bet—if she can’t solve the code in less than 24 hours he will get five volumes of his choice from her father’s library but if she solves the code she will get his newly acquired autographed Victor Hugo book. The code leads to an important clue to an old mystery shrouded in Elizabethan history.
Opinion: Known as Lady Detective in Korea, this manhwa is a fun new series. Sadly, I can’t tell if there will be more than two volumes. Grrr. I was automatically drawn to this series because (a) it is a mystery manhwa, (b) it is set in Victorian times, and (c) since it occurs before Sherlock Holmes’ time there are a lot of cute references to it that literary readers will catch on to. For example, Inspector Lestrade appears as an officer working alongside Inspector Gray. Since Lestrade is kind of presented in the Holmes stories as an inept investigator he is drawn in this series as a LEGO person (complete with LEGO hands too!). He is rather comical. In the second volume, Professor Moriarty makes an appearance as a student and is usually called James. The stories are really good mysteries that are pretty clean for younger fans. There is a moment in the first volume when Lizzie touches the bullet wound on the victim’s head but the reactions of the police help distract readers from the rather gruesome act (she is doing it to help prove something though—not just out of gross curiosity). One of the awesome aspects of the series is the references not only to the fictional world of Sherlock Holmes but also to the real world. When they mention real world events (especially in the mystery of the second volume) the art includes actual images from history which help ground the events in real time too. Lizzie is a strong female character who doesn’t let society get in the way of her dreams to become a detective. An interesting thing in volume two is the inclusion of a real McMorning, Private Tutor and Sleuth story “Stepmother’s Curse”. It is here that I realized that the main character of the stories appears to be a girl. Readers may or may not enjoy this text story as it does follow the conventions of Victorian writing. If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes you’d probably enjoy reading it. I think, overall, it adds to the value of the story. My only complaint is that throughout the books there are a lot of side comments (things characters say that aren’t in the speech balloons) that are actually important to the plot but are written so tiny that you can easily overlook them especially if, say, your hand was blocking the text. A lot of really comical elements appear in these tiny comments so I advise readers to make sure they are looking for these lines as they are reading. Overall, an excellent mystery graphic novel series for fans of Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, anything Victorian, and Case Closed.

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