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Mr Bazalgette's Agent by Leonard Merrick
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Mr Bazalgette's Agent (1888)

by Leonard Merrick

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Miriam Lea, the protagonist of this novel, may not be a very good detective but she is a fascinating character.

The narration takes the form of her diary. She is an acerbic and entertaining narrator and is interesting for what she withholds as much as what she says. She vividly describes her reduced circumstances, living in London in a dreary boarding house. She implies that she is used to better and refers drily to losing her post as a governess because she was previously an actress.

It seems she has a colourful past, but although she drops hints throughout the narrative, it is never entirely clear what her background is and why she finds herself so alone.

She is forthright in describing the terror of poverty. She is just clinging to respectability but, however much she despises her current life, she knows she has further to fall. She is exasperated by her failure to find employment and weary of the disbelief of those who would say she just isn’t trying (contemporary resonances there).

However, she maintains her spirits in part by looking down on those who are in the same precarious situation as her, rather than finding any sense of solidarity.

In desperation she turns to a private investigator for work, after spending the last of her money on a good pair of gloves, knowing that ‘the less you look in want of the thing you solicit the more likely you are to get it’.

It seems her problems are solved when she is offered an assignment which requires her to travel Europe, staying in top hotels in the guise of a wealthy widow, while pursuing a fugitive. But this opportunity throws up other challenges.

The plot doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and for this reason I think many fans of contemporary crime fiction would find this novel lacking. But it is an interesting piece of social history and the more enduring mystery is Miriam Lea herself. ( )
  KateVane | Apr 25, 2015 |
Interesting as one of the first novel-length stories about a female detective. The heroine (who tells the story to her diary) is a poor unemployed gentlewoman (poverty vividly described0 in London who takes a detective job out of pure desperation. She is assigned to find a fleeing embezzler. She tracks what se believes to be the main across Europe and eventually to South Africa ad the diamond fields at Kimberley, where she falls in love with him and suffers a conflict of love and duty which is resolved in a neat, but to me unsatisfying, manner. She does not display great detective abilities other than persistence. The story is competently written but more a travelogue than a mystery. Merrick wrote many more books, but no more mysteries. ( )
  antiquary | Mar 27, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Leonard Merrickprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ashley, MikeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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CRIME & MYSTERY. When Miriam Lea falls on hard times, an advertisement calling for private agents catches her eye, and within weeks she finds herself in Mr Bazalgette's employ as a private detective, travelling on a train to Hamburg in pursuit of an audacious fraudster. What follows is a journey through some of the great cities of Europe - and eventually to South Africa - as Miss Lea attempts to find her man. Miriam Lea is only the third ever British professional female detective to appear in a work of crime fiction. Originally published in 1888, Mr Bazalgette's Agent presents a determined and resourceful heroine in the figure of Miss Lea, who grapples with some very modern dilemmas of female virtue and vice. Leonard Merrick said of the book, his first: 'It's a terrible book. It's the worst thing I ever wrote. I bought them all up and destroyed them. You can't find any.… (more)

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