Goodreads: The Case of the Missing Moonstone
Series: The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency #1
Published: January 2015
Eleven-year-old Ada Lovelace is rather lonely until the day a new tutor arrives and, shortly after, a new student–fourteen-year-old Mary Godwin (the future Mary Shelley). Together Ada and Mary set up the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, a secret constabulary to apprehend clever criminals. Just when their first case gets exciting, however, everything falls apart. After all, Victorian Society doesn’t expect proper young ladies to be detectives!
Marketing decided to brand The Case of the Missing Moonstone as appealing to fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society, but I fortunately trust no comparisons made between books made on the cover of a book itself and thus was spared at least one disappointment. I was, however, looking forward to a story that promised that “history, mystery, and science collide”–that description at least seemed applicable, seeing as this book imagines an 1826 London where Mary Shelley meets Ada Lovelace (considered the first computer programmer) and the two form a secret detective agency. One would expect a lot of science and math, as well as little romance, from that sort of description. The Case of the Missing Moonstone, however, featured little science and less math; poetry and literature are relegated to passing mentions. And the mystery itself is hardly exciting. I expected so much more from an adventure featuring such remarkable young women.
The Case of the Missing Moonstone is obviously nothing like The Mysterious Benedict Society in that The Mysterious Benedict Society features puzzles readers can solve, while this book presents a more straight-forward mystery such as one might expect from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Furthermore, while The Mysterious Benedict Society expects its protagonists (and readers) to use logic and other skills in the solving of the puzzles, The Case of the Missing Moonstone asks for no outside knowledge from the reader and barely asks its own characters to use their own special skills. Science, as presented in the tale, appears only as an odd hobby of Ada’s while her interest in math is mentioned only in reference to her family machine that spits out results when one feeds it variables (notice the vagueness of the description). As for Mary Shelley, one would hardly know she will become a famous author. She has a talent for understanding people that many an author possesses, true, and she mentions liking books, but otherwise her future potential seems somewhat obscure. They solve their crime mostly by doing some straight-forward research and sleuthing, such as anyone might do.
Their case, meanwhile, is not that exciting. It features a missing heirloom, allegedly stolen from a sixteen-year-old girl. The suspects are few (there are three of them–four if you count the maid who clearly didn’t do it) and the culprit obvious from the start. The plot is only drawn out because Mary and Ada have to think of ways to sleuth, since young Victorian ladies are not to be seen sleuthing. Their efforts are, ironically, somewhat laughable–Ada, after all, is supposed to be a genius. And yet they place a public ad in the paper for clients, then meet clients in person at Ada’s house, and then visit the clients in person some more. Very secretive. No one will ever know that they are sleuthing. And their tutor will never suspect anything amiss when they repeatedly lock him in cupboards so they can sneak out. I understand the girls are young, but I expected a little more from them all the same.
Only the characters kept me reading, but I suspect that, had I actually been reading the book and not listening to the audiobook (read by Nicola Barber), I would have found Ada extremely annoying. She may be a genius, but she throws a lot of temper tantrums. Barber manages to make her seem likable all the same, but I surely would have read her as obnoxiously whiny if left to my own devices. Mary proves a more sympathetic character, eager for adventure and sensitive to the needs of others. Together, the two are interesting enough that I wanted to see how their story would end. They are not, however, so interesting as to make me want to read the sequel.
The Case of the Missing Moonstone promises an awful lot, presenting itself as a clever adventure that will invite readers into the mystery and present fun science and history at the same time. In actuality it is a rather standard middle-grade mystery, made interesting only by the addition of historical figures and a few nudging references to the literature of the time. I regret to say that a mystery powered by two leading ladies of history let me down.