In this first book in an elementary grade mystery series, 11 year-old Ada Lovelace (real-life daughter of poet Lord Byron) and 14 year-old Mary Godwin (real-life daughter of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft) decide to set up a detective agency, and their first case is investigating the theft of a jewel, the Acorn of Ankara.
The two main characters are well-delineated, though the odd couple pairing is hardly original – Ada is a brilliant mathematician and scientist but lacks (as is usually the literary case) social awareness, while Mary is more socially astute but less logical.
Stratford plays fast and loose with historical accuracy – for example, the girls were actually 14 years apart – though does come clean in the thorough Notes at the end. It did lead me to wonder, though, what was the point of using real life characters that it’s extremely unlikely the target reader will have heard of. I guess the hope is that one or two may do some follow-up research on these British proto-feminists, though they may come across some rather unpleasant facts about the complex web of relationships in this circle.
The mystery itself is lightweight, as much of the book is taken with setting up the characters and the world, and it will not stretch young readers’ detective skills too much as the resolution is delayed by the characters’ inability to find the meaning of ‘mesmerize’, a task which the reader with Google to hand will make short shrift of.
The tone is smart and cheery, aided by Murphy’s illustrations, and is appealingly contemporary despite the 19th century setting. All in all, a pleasant read for elementary school fans of mysteries, though the historical setting may make it a hard sell.
Reviewed from an ARC.