The Marion Lane Trilogy by T. A. Willberg (book review)
GENRE: Adult Historical Mystery
LENGTH: 935 pages (over 3 books)
Marion Lane is an apprentice for Miss Brickett’s, an agency of secret investigators located in underground London. While completing her apprenticeship, Marion finds herself at the heart of dangerous missions.
Marion is the main character, but other prominent characters include her best friend Bill Hobb, her love interest Kenny Hugo, her father figure Frank, and her boss Nancy Brickett.
I liked how Marion is an independent, career driven woman in a time when that wasn’t nearly as common as today. Bill is a genuinely good guy and loyal friend. It’s not often you get to see a male-female friendship pairing that remains platonic throughout the series and while these two had a wholesome friendship I’m glad it didn’t turn romantic. As for Marion’s actual love interest, Kenny is a police detective from America. They don’t really get together until the end of the second book but I wasn’t a fan of them together. Their romance just feels a little flat and Kenny initially describes his feelings for her as like a sister which is cringey given where they end up.
Frank is a character I had pretty mixed feelings about. I do believe he loves Marion like a daughter and trusts her implicitly. HOWEVER, for someone who promised her mom he’d protect her this man throws her into all kinds of dangerous scenarios.
Finally, there’s Nancy. I would love if Willberg does a spin off series following Nancy as she develops the agency because we’re introduced to it as this massive operation started by just this single woman. Also, she’s so cold on the surface but she shows moments where that façade cracks just a little and I want a peek inside her thought process.
The first book (Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder) is about a locked room mystery where a Miss Brickett’s employee is slain. The second book (Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose) is about a serial killer known as the Florist and simmering drama and tension between Miss Brickett’s employees. The final book (Marion Lane and the Raven’s Revenge) is about a mysterious figure known as the Raven who has a connection to Marion’s late mother.
This series is what I refer to as genre bending. It’s a series that takes place in the late 50s and 1960 and real life historical events have an impact on the plot (thus it’s historical fiction). Each novel solves a mystery about a killer (so it’s also a murder mystery series). It’s also got just a touch of magical realism elements too. I think it takes a talented author to balance multiple genres and even more so in one book. I also think it has great potential to appeal to a wider audience. I rarely read historical fiction, for instance, but my most read genre is mystery. It was the mystery plots that drew me in but for you it may be the historical aspects or the setting and cool gadgets that don’t exist even in our modern day society. Cross genre books feature something for everyone!
The best part of this series is Miss Brickett’s itself. In mystery books, I’m drawn to settings such as old mansions that are filled with secret corridors and rooms to discover. Miss Brickett’s is a labyrinth with some parts (the library, bar and common room) feeling cozy, others feeling industrial (the gadgetry and filing departments), and creepy and claustrophobic in still others (beyond the border and the holding chambers). Marion thinks of Miss Brickett’s as being sort of magical and it really does feel like stepping through a portal with the London above and the agency below being worlds apart.
The biggest missed opportunity in this series is delving more into the dark secrets of Miss Brickett’s. We learn that this seemingly altruistic agency does some pretty shady things that even most employees aren’t aware of. A lot of it comes to light in the second book and I question why it doesn’t cause more than a moment of doubt for Marion. She can love her job and her coworkers, but she mostly ignores the agency’s seedy underbelly when her addressing it more could have made for some really enticing plots.
The concept of this series is really unique and it's executed well. Like I said above, Miss Brickett's itself is the best part of the entire series. Without the investigation agency I don't think this series would have been nearly as interesting because, while likable, the characters didn't entirely capture me. Now that this series is finished, I'll be interested to see what Willberg writes next.