RogerBW's Blog

The Sorceress of the Strand, L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace 25 March 2016

Collection of six short mystery stories from 1902-1903. Madame Sara, the best "beautifier" in London, is also a master criminal – one might even say a veritable Napoleon of crime.

I was put onto this by Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d'Urbervilles, and the influence of Sherlock Holmes is obvious: while the narrator is supposed to be a reasonably cunning investigator, and indeed chemist, in his own right, all the real detection and chemistry are done by his friend Vandeleur the police surgeon.

But unlike Doyle's work these mostly aren't stories about the Great Detective; Meade and Eustace clearly regard their villainess as the point of the effort, and although she doesn't spend a great deal of time on stage she's by far the best-developed character here. In turn-of-the-century London, as well as her criminal activities, she is everything from cosmetician to plastic surgeon:

Another chair, supported on a glass pedestal, was kept there, Madame Sara informed me, for administering static electricity. There were dry-cell batteries for the continuous currents and induction coils for Faradic currents.

Though of course there's no mention of the one trade which someone specialising in private treatments for women and with criminal tendencies would be certain to practice, and in which her extensive knowledge of poisons would be thoroughly helpful.

Unlike the Holmes stories again, the mystery is not in who is behind the Dastardly Plot: every time, it's Madame Sara again (even if in practice she has merely provided the idea for someone else to implement). And in spite of all the previous incidents, more people constantly fall under her spell. Rather, the mystery is in what is going on, and in how it is being contrived. Of course Madame Sara must always escape from imprisonment or the hangman so as to be available for the next story, and even in these few tales the repetition of plot becomes plain.

But in spite of this, and one villain described as "half Jew, half Greek", there's a sense of fun here. It's unashamedly melodramatic writing in the grand tradition, and while not challenging to the intellect it's a pleasant diversion.

Freely available at UPenn (with original illustrations), ManyBooks (various formats) and LibriVox (audiobook).

See also:
Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles, Kim Newman

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2022 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1