Marion Lane has steampunk vibes but takes place in 1958 London. It has the hallmarks of a spy thriller – including neat gadgets – but also a touch of the mystery that made me think of the Ministry of Magic in the Harry Potter series. An entrance to an underground investigation firm found in a shabby little bookshop? The firm is staffed by Inquirers, who all have their own strengths? Sign me up!
This book does a great job of pacing out the story very carefully – it doesn’t give too much up front but also doesn’t withhold answers until the very end for an overwhelming exposition dump. All of the characters are well fleshed out, with such solid and distinct personalities that each felt as if they had a different voice. It’s not a small cast either – Willberg introduces plenty of secondary characters that populate Miss Brickett’s but does so without them blending into the background or serving as a contrivance to drive the plot forward.
Considering this is a murder mystery, there’s not a lot I can say without edging towards spoilers. I will say that Marion is a strong, female protagonist, whip-smart and compassionate. I also appreciated that an element of romance wasn’t introduced right away and when it is simply hinted at, it isn’t a speedy “love-at-first-sight” situation – by the end of the book, there may have been some slight flirting and that’s about it. I have no problem with romance – I appreciate a well-written one, and some detective stories have certainly done a great job with it – but I will say that too often I think a female main character is saddled with a romantic interest early on. Sometimes that’s fine and it works out well, but other times it sort of stunts the character’s growth. This book definitely does not suffer from that.
In addition to a strong cast, Willberg has created a world that is fantastic. It’s easy to imagine London in the 1950s, but Willberg has also done an incredible job of creating a mysterious world that resides underneath it, quite literally. There’s so much to love about this book and I’m eager to read the next story of Marion Lane.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely!
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