Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries Volume 1
These days, it’s hard to find manga that I don’t know much about, what with all the reviews and Twitter chat, but I had good luck blind-buying Young Miss Holmes, which I enjoyed. So when I saw that Seven Seas had another young woman solving mysteries in an historical period, I dove in. Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries is a bit different, though — since it’s translated manhwa from Korea, it reads left-to-right. The story is by Hey-jin Jeon with art by Ki-ha Lee.
With all the attention lately on Sherlock and his various incarnations (I liked watching Elementary), it’s fun to read more about murder in the Victorian period. Although Lizzie Newton could be described as “Sherlock’s older sister”, as the authors point out on their notes page, the appeal of the character for me is watching a woman clearly smarter than her times struggle coping with the less talented around her. It can be refreshing, when I’m frustrated about the struggles my gender faces, to be reminded that it was once much harder to be treated as a person, not just a dressed-up decoration.
The mystery is a classic locked-room setup, with Sir Thomas, a depressed young lord who’s engrossed in painting, found dead in an apparent suicide. Lizzie jumps right in, examining the body, which shocks everyone. She quickly concludes it was murder, with the rest of the book following how she convinces the authorities of that fact. Her frustration at the casual stereotypes others apply to her is both recognizable and entertaining. I enjoyed seeing how she faced off with the inspector who’s full of generalizations about how women are overly emotional and “useless as witnesses”. (She mentions Ada Lovelace, too, who makes a cameo!)
Lizzie has several great characteristics that set her apart from her contemporaries: she writes popular mystery stories, for one, although under a psuedonym, and she’s addicted to buying used books. She’s also got a protective manservant. “Young Master Edwin” is, like she is, an odd duck — he was a successful rising star lawyer until he gave it up to work for Lizzie’s household. He’s also her good-looking fiance, although she denies it. (Can’t have a female hero without a love interest, after all.) Thankfully, his unusual status is used in the plot, which plays up the class distinctions between servants and their masters.
The art has many decorative historical touches, particularly buildings, dresses, and horse-and-carriages. It’s enjoyable to duck into this world for a while. And I adore how the limited-thinking policeman is drawn as though he was a Lego man, complete with silly grin and yellow-curve hands. It’s humorous, but it’s also an indication of how the real, three-dimensional characters are those who think for themselves and refuse to be bound by tradition.
Additional material includes an explanation of the Marsh test for gunpowder, indicating who’s recently fired a gun, a page of back-and-forth between the creators, three short strips by the artist, and a preview from Witch Hunter.