The first book in Jordan Stratford’s The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series snuck up on me. I didn’t know of its existence until I saw the book on a list of good feminist books for young readers. I was charmed by the idea of Mary Shelley and Ada Lovelace solving crimes in their childhood, so charmed that I checked The Case of the Missing Moonstone out of the library and read the entire book on a trip up north. Response – this book is a lot of fun for all ages.
Mary Godwin (later Shelley) has gone to live with the Byrons; the family of the well-known poet Lord Byron. While there she meets Ada, his precocious and quick-witted daughter. Ada is inquisitive bordering on rude, fascinated with Mathematics and Science and Charles Babbage. At first Mary is overwhelmed by Ada’s pluck but she soon falls in with her, getting into the schemes that Ada proposes. Mary herself is a dreamer, always looking at people in a different way. Her observational skills are noted by Ada who decides to use them for her own advantage. The two decide to have some adventure and form The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency; a private club that will solve people’s mysteries in their spare time. The first case comes via post in the form of a missing jewel, a symbol of a blissful engagement for the Miss Rebecca Verdigris to Mr. Beau Datchery. The Verdigris give the girls several leads from which to start solving the case.
The book is as fun as it sounds. The girls themselves are perfect halves of a unique whole. That said, I was a bit disappointed in Mary’s development herself. Being a Shelley fan from way back I found that she did not have enough personality for me, especially when Ada was in the scene. The two go together quite well but Ada dominates all. She’s vivacious and bold and she simply gets everything around her. She very much is the Sherlock in the scenario while Mary takes on a much softer Watson. The book itself is also an homage to Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, a classic of the mystery genre, which makes this feel like several other beloved books ahead of it.
Beyond that, you have the introduction of many of the critical minds of the time – Charles Babbage (as I have already mentioned), a young Charles Dickens (which provided a truly groan-inducing pun in the middle of the book), Percy Shelley (a young tutor for Ada), Lord Byron, even Mary’s mother is often mentioned (she wrote an early feminist book about ladies behavior). It’s an easy way to intrigue young readers into reading historical fact and fiction in tandem.
I enjoyed this book. I didn’t love it, but I did like it quite a lot. I am looking forward to reading the sequel.
4 out of 5 stars.
– Follow the Reader –