Bustles, bows, and murder.
Bros, let me start this review out this way – if you are a mystery fan, you should pick up Lizzie Newton, because it is extremely good. Yes, yes – even if you are a big-ass weeaboo who makes faces about manhwa normally (and I myself rarely like manhwa that is published in North America), because this is one of those rare birds of the anime/manga/manhwa universe that does mystery right.
Lizzie Newton is about a young woman named, shocker!, Elizabeth Newton, who lives in Victorian-era England. Lizzie is a member of the aristocracy who writes murder mysteries that are published under a male pseudonym, and she chafes against the gender conventions of her time. Her father has somewhat recently passed away, and she is (apparently) engaged to the family steward, who left his post as a young star barrister to work for the Newton family, a fact that is shocking to a few people within the story (as it would be in real life). However, Lizzie finds the steward, Edwin White, pretty dull and has zero interest in him romantically, even as her peers laud him. I’m sure she’ll come around by the end, though. In the other corner is a police Inspector (of whom, unfortunately, I either don’t recall the name or it wasn’t mentioned! I’ve paged through several times and failed to find a name given for him), who is initially dismissive of Lizzie and who is extremely disdainful of women in general, although he is intrigued by both Lizzie and Edwin by the end – he may end up being a romantic rival, but perhaps he won’t.
Anyway, it all starts off with a classic locked-room mystery, as a man apparently commits suicide while Lizzie is visiting the house where the murder takes place. Lizzie throws everyone off by walking right into the room and poking her finger into the bullet-wound, before declaring that its not a suicide, but a murder. The police basically tell her she’s just being hysterical, and brush her off, much to her annoyance. The story more or less plays out from there.
You know, I mention the last bit in part because Lizzie Newton actually is pretty up-front about how deeply misogynistic Victorian society was. The Inspector complains about women a lot, in particular sniping at women’s concerns about looking pretty and beautiful when in public, a move that is especially pernicious since he is criticizing something that was actively encouraged in women (and still is!). Basically, he’s sniffing in disgust at something that women had to be good at in order to survive in their society, something we still see pretty commonly in Western societies (think of general attitudes about modern women being concerned with make-up, clothes, shoes, hair, etc. – all things that, if a woman doesn’t pay “enough” attention to, women are maligned on; consider the news reports every so often of women in places like the U.S. and England being fired from their jobs for refusing to wear make-up and high heels). Thankfully, when Lizzie shows him up, it isn’t treated like it sometimes is in shoujo manga, i.e. that the heroine is the sparkling exception; instead, Lizzie pointedly tells the Inspector that he’s generalizing women as a whole, and brings up a real-life example of a woman (Countess Ada Lovelace) who used logic* to advance technology. And this is all done without being preachy, as Lizzie’s character to this point has been pretty vocal about loathing how she isn’t taken seriously because she is a woman.
I suppose, though, that at this point one is wondering what’s so great about the mystery. Lizzie Newton takes an approach that is a bit old school, as the reader couldn’t possibly work out the solution themselves. Instead, its a more “flashback”-type approach, as Lizzie and Edwin gather up evidence and then present it to each other and to the Inspector. In fact, when the solution comes, the reader will realize that Knox’s Ten Commandments have been violated. This should be frustrating, but it really isn’t – its interesting enough to watch Lizzie explain, step-by-step, why she knew it was a murder, and how they worked out who committed the murder. There is also a dash of 19th century forensics thrown in, a nice touch to the affair, as it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the process; I honestly prefer older murder mysteries to more recent ones since many newer ones let the forensics hijack the entire story. Yes, forensics is fascinating… but I think its much more interesting to watch the forensics support the solving process rather than supplant it.
Seven Seas does a great job with this release – they seem to be one of the few publishers these days who manages to go an entire volume sans typos (Tokyopop was awful on this front at the end, and Yen is frequently terrible in their more recent releases – one of the latter volumes of Spiral had five typos, which may not seem like much, but is pretty absurd for a professional publication) (of course, this ties in with the race to the bottom on compensation to translators…!). The pages themselves are crisp, the cover and pages have not been poorly-cut (something else that plagued Tokyopop at the end). I do think the MSRPt is slightly high ($11.99 where $10.99 seems more appropriate), but it isn’t shocking given that Seven Seas is a pretty small publisher.
So if you’re a fan of murder mysteries, and you found Young Miss Holmes (another Seven Seas license) not exactly to your tastes, you’d do well to pick up Lizzie Newton. And if you’re still hedging on it, Seven Seas has a pretty hefty preview of it available – right now it covers the first 125 pages. If you like it, though, buy it! After all, if you like it, you want them to keep releasing it!