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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Case of the
Missing Moonstone

Jordan Stratford

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To purchase The Case of the Missing Moonstone

Title: The Case of the Missing Moonstone
Author: Jordan Stratford
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015
Length: 215 pages
Availability: The Case of the Missing Moonstone - US
The Case of the Missing Moonstone - UK
The Case of the Missing Moonstone - Canada
The Case of the Missing Moonstone - India
Adas und Marys unglaublich erfolgreiche [...] - Deutschland
  • The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, Book 1
  • With illustrations by Kelly Murphy

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Our Assessment:

B : thin but entertaining

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 13/2/2015 Suzi Feay
Publishers Weekly . 20/10/2014 .
Wall St. Journal . 2/1/2015 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "The mystery -- a missing-gem plot that nods to Wilkie Collins -- isnít too taxing, but the telling is sprightly and vaguely reminiscent of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase." - Suzi Feay, Financial Times

  • "Skilled b&w illustrations and comical narration and dialogue will charm readers thoroughly." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Full of literary in-jokes and engagingly arch, this debut novel requires that we suspend historical fastidiousness." - Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Case of the Missing Moonstone features a young Ada Byron (later Lovelace), aged eleven, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later, and better known as Frankenstein-author Mary Shelley), aged fourteen. Setting the action in 1826, author Stratford has played fast and loose with history and biography: young Ada was indeed eleven at the time, but Mary should have been twenty-nine by then (and Frankenstein already in circulation eight years earlier); Stratford admits as much in his Preface but suggests that aside from this: "the characters themselves are as true to history as we are able to tell" and, presumably, he contends that bringing them together in this way is worth the liberties he's taking.
       The Case of the Missing Moonstone is a children's book -- recommended age 8 to 12 -- and perhaps the thinking is that kids don't really care so much about historical accuracy, or shouldn't be bothered by it; Stratford certainly goes all in (or all out) by having the girls' tutor be: "Percy B. -- er, Snagsby", revealed soon enough as Percy Bysshe Shelley, who not only was long dead by then (he passed away in 1822) but, in real-life history, had notoriously run away to Switzerland with the sixteen-year-old Mary, eventually marrying her. While one can see why Stratford was tempted to drag the poet into this, and into the Byron-household, where most of the action takes place (though thankfully Stratford at least leaves Shelley's buddy Byron -- Ada's father -- long dead), but for anyone vaguely aware of these histories it makes for considerable confusion (beginning with the fact that Byron had actually outlived Shelley). Beyond that, the fact that real-life Shelley and Mary had run off together -- when Mary was not much older than she is in the novel -- also sets up rather more anticipatory subtext than this sort of novel (the first in a planned series) surely can bear.
       Real-life Ada and Mary are wonderful characters, women of great and impressive accomplishment, and one can understand the temptation to use them -- or especially their younger selves -- as characters in fiction. But is it necessary to take such a great leap, to (very messily) realign history so that they can be chums ? Anything goes in fiction -- or at least anything can -- but isn't this a stretch too tortured-far ? Wouldn't it have sufficed to invent another playmate for Ada, or enlisted an actual contemporary ? (Certainly, at least in this installment of the series, there's little Mary Shelley to this Mary, few hints of what was to come, and an entirely different character could easily stand in her place. (Not so, admittedly, with Ada, who is more central -- and, as young genius, already more fully-formed as the person later known as Ada Lovelace.)) Stratford wants his authenticity-cake, and to eat it too, but he's putting an awfully big burden on name-/reputation-recognition alone; using historical characters ahistorically -- in such an odd half time-shifted conflation, no less -- needs a better excuse or justification than Stratford and his story provide.
       (Hey, it's just a kid's book might be the counter-argument, but recalling my own youthful narrow-mindedness these liberties would have infuriated the young-reader me even more than they do the supposedly more mature one.)
       The idea to the novel (and series) then, historical confusions aside, is a bit far-fetched but has some appeal and potential. Ada has been left more or less to her own (ambitious, creative, and bookish) devices in the Byron-household -- dad is dead, mother away, the servants know their place. Hapless Peebs -- Shelley -- is engaged as a tutor (incognito, because Ada's mother doesn't want any of the old Byron-gang around), and the slightly older girl, Mary, is to come by daily to study too. Ada has her own ideas -- she proves not to be highly tutor-able -- but in Mary she at least finds something she's otherwise lacking, a friend, -- and they decide that it would be fun to solve some crimes. So they form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency.
       They enlist the help of the boy who shares the coach with Mary on her trips to the Byron-house -- a young Charles Dickens, fourteen at the time (in both real-life and the novel ...), off daily to work at the boot-polish factory -- whose help they need to place the advertisement and to collect the responses they receive to it. While they -- well, decisive Ada -- decline most of the cases, they finally find one of interest: a moonstone has been stolen, and while someone has confessed to the crime, the victim believes the person who has claimed responsibility (and sits in jail) is in fact innocent.
       The detecting-work is pretty basic and simple, if occasionally farfetched (such as the girls' expedition to Newgate prison), as is then the final showdown, complete with rather hard to credit precision timing and an unlikely balloon flight -- but after the outlandishness of Stratford's (a)historical premise it's all a bit easier to swallow. It helps that Stratford has an engaging narrative style -- dialogue-heavy, the descriptions and events are gently humorous, with interesting contrasts, from the workings of cerebral Ada's mind (with Stratford less focused on the workings than the results) to the supporting cast of characters, who all work well in support -- even when, as in the case of Peebs, that means they're unceremoniously locked in the distillery closet so as to not be in any way in the way.
       The Case of the Missing Moonstone is quite good if rather light fun -- more obviously (and somewhat frustratingly) light given its remarkable protagonists. Again: if one is already going to make use of such significant personages, then one should surely use them (and all they represent and accomplished) for all they're worth -- and Stratford doesn't really do that. Too much here is simplified too far, the steps all too easy; too often this really does feel like juvenile fiction -- where even young readers would surely prefer a deeper if not more demanding story. Ada's circumstances and talents are a fine foundation which is used reasonably well, and she makes a fine heroine, but too much else here feels like cheap cameos, mining history and plopping it into the plot for little more than name-recognition-amusement.
       Still, the combinations -- the characters, the premise, the time -- have considerable potential, and Stratford's easy-going style considerable appeal, so it will be interesting to see where he takes the story and the talented young women as the series continues.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 December 2015

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The Case of the Missing Moonstone: Reviews: Jordan Stratford: Other books in The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency-series under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Jordan Stratford is a Canadian author.

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