When it comes to reading (and collecting!) books that could be regarded as a set, I confess that I’m a bit of a stickler. Take the British Library Crime Classics, for example! I stumbled across these recently, and I’m very keen to read “Death on the Cherwell” and “Murder Underground” by Mavis Doriel Hay. However, being fussy, I decided to start at the beginning, and picked up this – the first one they put out. As the blurb states, the protagonist Miriam Lea is “only the third-ever professional female detective to appear in a work of crime fiction” – so why has the novella been forgotten, particularly as the author was apparently very highly regarded in his day! The introduction reveals a little of what could be the problem, in that the story is somewhat derivative of an early work, Harlan Halsey’s “The Lady Detective”. But since I haven’t read this yet, I approached MBA with an open mind.

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We are introduced to Miriam Lea, orphan, who earns a living however she can. Previously she had appeared on stage, then worked as a governess, but she’s now fallen on hard times and in desperation approaches Mr. Bazalgette’s agency to see if they will take her on as an operative. Luckily, just before the money runs out, a case of theft comes up and Miriam is sent off in pursuit of a fleeing bank employee, assisted by Dunstan, a more experienced agent who acts as her maid. The chase takes them to Belgium, Paris, Spain and eventually South Africa while they try to run their man to ground. Will they catch him red-handed with the stolen money and bonds, or will the thief escape?

Well, what to say about this? The book takes the form of a diary and so we see all through the eyes of Miriam, watching her fluctuating frame of mind and her responses to the events. The book is a good read, short but involving, and full of action. But – and there is a but – it does have its limitations. To be honest, apart from Miriam there is not a huge amount of characterisation and so I never really got a strong sense of the others involved in the story. The action is fairly surface level, thought related a little breathlessly, and the mystery and the twist are not greatly surprising. But my main thought would be that this really isn’t that much of a crime novel! Yes, there’s a crime and yes there’s an attempt to apprehend the thief, but in all honesty this is a book about Miriam and her life and what will happen to her, not a vintage crime novel(la)!leonardmerrick
In the end I quite enjoyed MBA – but I don’t think it will rate as highly as I expect some of the later books to do, and I can’t see myself wanting to revisit it again – so at least that’s another one that can leave the house!

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