Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: LADY MOLLY OF SCOTLAND YARD by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

lady molly book cover
Original Publication Date: 1910

Genre: mystery

Topics: female detective


Lady Molly and her uncomfortably devoted assistant, Mary, are part of a new group of female detectives in Scotland Yard. They solve mysteries.

After I finished The Experiences of Loveday Brooke (review here), Anastasia from Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog asked if I'd read the series about a female detective written by Baroness Orczy. I didn't even know Orczy wrote mysteries, let alone mysteries with a woman detective! Considering my enjoyment of The Scarlet Pimpernel, I had high expectations for Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, but wound up being pretty disappointed. Let's just say mysteries were obviously not Orczy's raison d'etre.

In my review of The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, I complained that although the mysteries were entertaining and twisty, Loveday didn't have much personality. After reading Lady Molly, however, I'd like to apologize to CL Pirkis for that statement, because Lady Molly has even less personality than Loveday did, and the mysteries and the way they're solved are super-boring.

The stories are all narrated by Mary, Lady Molly's assistant, kind of like the Sherlock Holmes stories. With Sherlock Holmes, though, having the stories narrated by someone else makes sense because it would be difficult to capture the quirkiness of Holmes' personality if they were told from his point of view. There's no way Holmes is going to be an "everyman" in the way John Watson is. Lady Molly, on the hand, doesn't really seem to have any personality, so the only effect of having Mary narrate is that we're completely removed from the action and investigation. At least Loveday squinted when she had an idea and we got to witness her investigating things; with Lady Mary, she just seems to giggle and order Mary around.

In every story, Mary tells us about the crimes under investigation, with an astonishing amount of detail considering she never actually witnessed any of them. Then Lady Molly sends her off to investigate, pops up at the very end, and pinpoints the perpetrator. Her "investigative technique" of choice is emotional manipulation, something no one objects to as long as she's manipulating women and not men. Since Mary is the narrator, we hardly ever see Lady Molly investigate anything, and the solutions to the mysteries never quite make sense. With Loveday Brooke, one can see how she got from point A to point B to point C; with Lady Molly, she just pulls a solution out of her butt and one is never quite sure how she got there, even with the after-the-fact explanation of the "clues" only she knew about. There are a few mysteries where this doesn't happen, but they're very predictable.

The best story is probably "The End," since we do get to see a lot of Lady Molly in action, and find out some interesting back story about her. But even in "The End," Lady Molly's investigation is suspect, and the conclusion to the mystery doesn't completely make sense.

I would say if you're looking for a female detective story, Loveday Brooke is still your best bet. If you do want to try Lady Molly, I'd recommend sticking with "The Ninescore Mystery" and "The End" and ignoring the other stories entirely

Find Lady Molly of Scotland Yard by Baroness Orczy at UPenn Library|Librivox