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Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder


Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder

“The bookshop was a link to the outside world, to stability and normality, and a portal into the mysterious and intoxicating world of Inquiry.”

Think Harry Potter catching a train at Platform 9 ¾, which will whisk him off to wizarding school. But here we have Marion Lane, a young woman living with her grandmother in postwar London, whisked off to a world of secrets and detective work.

Marion recently lost her job and has been lucky enough to secure an appointment for a new one. She has an interview at Miss Brickett’s Secondhand Books and Curiosities. When she arrives at the appointed time, though, she finds the door locked. The bookshop is actually a front for Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries. So getting inside might be the first test Marion faces. If she can figure out how to defeat that lock, maybe she’ll be offered a position. Marion’s last employment was with a mechanic, so this test is right in her wheelhouse, and she soon has the door open. Miss Brickett’s Secondhand Books looks somewhat disheveled and dusty, but holds a certain charm nonetheless. However, hidden inside the small store is a lift, one that descends underground to where the agency has set itself up inside unused tunnels and abandoned spaces. A curious place indeed.

"Solving the murder, for T.A. Willberg’s readers, is loads of fun. The setting, almost fantastical, has strange inventions to discover and rare creatures to be encountered."

To Marion’s delight, she is taken on as a first-year apprentice. If all works out as she hopes, she will become an Inquirer at the end of three years. But the road is long and grueling. And Miss Brickett’s has strict rules, the most important of which includes forbidden areas. Trespassing will get you ousted immediately. There’s even a Border Guard. Late one night, that Border Guard, who was also an agency clerk, received a letter containing a name, a place and a time, with instructions to destroy it immediately after reading. She realized what it meant and rushed off. At the stroke of midnight, she was murdered, and it appears only one person had the opportunity to do it --- Marion’s good friend.

But the agency must handle this on its own. Involving the police could put the entire future of Miss Brickett’s at risk. The problem is that the evidence points to one person, and one person only. None of the agency board members will share information nor, it seems, will they even consider anyone else. Well, Marion can’t sit by and watch while her friends and career are destroyed. But the deeper she investigates, the more she discovers that the risk the agency faces is greater than simply being shut down.

The tunnels that Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries inhabits have a certain personality of their own. If you go too deep --- say, into the forbidden areas --- the walls even have a tendency to move. You could get trapped. Fortunately, the agency has a Gadget department, which Marion uses to the fullest. There are gadgets no one in the modern world has heard of, but they come in handy back in 1958.

Solving the murder, for T.A. Willberg’s readers, is loads of fun. The setting, almost fantastical, has strange inventions to discover and rare creatures to be encountered. There’s a nearly magical aura, which fights a sinister darkness that has followed the evil inside. Young Marion Lane has her first case behind her. Surely there will be many more to come.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 8, 2021

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder
by T.A. Willberg