cover image The Widow's Secret: The First Bella Wallis Mystery

The Widow's Secret: The First Bella Wallis Mystery

Brian Thompson. Vintage U.K. (IPG, dist.), $13.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-09-953948-3

Thompson, the author of two memoirs (Keeping Mum and Clever Girl), fails to make the most of an intriguing concept in his first Victorian historical featuring Bella Wallis, a widow who writes sensational novels about "titled society whores" and "termagant foreigners" under the pseudonym Henry Ellis Magram. The murder of a London prostitute known as Welsh Alice, whose throat was slit, attracts Wallis's interest as a possible starting point for her next book. Her acquiring a cigar box bearing a family crest that was discovered near the streetwalker's body leads her to invert actual events and create a fiction in which the box's owner is the victim of foul play at the hands of a woman. Eventually, Wallis finds herself playing real-life sleuth to track down Welsh Alice's killer. Convincing background color isn't enough to compensate for the lackluster plot development. (Sept.)