The Problem of the Missing Miss

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Under its prudish facade, Victorian England tolerated a host of vices, including child prostitution. The official age of consent for females was twelve, but even younger girls often served at the brothels patronized by rich and important men.

Not every important man condoned the practice, however. In 1885 Lord Richard Marbury led a drive to get reform legislation through Parliament. The issue was exploited as well as covered by the popular press. Powerful people felt threatened. Before the vote could come up in the House of Commons, Lord Richard’s daughter Alicia was kidnapped in an attempt to force him to drop his support of the bill. Two suspicious deaths soon followed.

That much is history. Around these events author Roberta Rogow has woven an unusual mystery novel, in which two unique nineteenth century figures collaborate to find the little girl and discover who in Lord Richard’s own inner circle has betrayed him, in THE PROBLEM OF THE MISSING MISS.

What could be more fun than to watch Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of that master detective, Sherlock Holmes, try his own hand at solving a murder or two? To also watch Charles Dodgson, a logician and mathematician, who wrote ALICE IN WONDERLAND to delight little girls, use his logic to figure out where one very vulnerable little girl is being held prisoner is an equal treat. Doyle sometimes thinks the scholar too naive and frail to track down criminals. Dodgson winces at Doyle’s assertive manner and his unfazed pursuit of gory medical details. Yet they work together well, and aside from the two corpses, all turns out right in the end.

Alicia Marbury herself is a resourceful and likeable ten-year-old. Locked in an attic room, she still puzzles out approximately where she is and why, and twice almost manages to escape her captors on her own.

Brighton, England, by this time a garish but respectable seaside resort for the middle class, is shown in all its vivid and misty shades and textures. Rogow conveys a real sense of place and era, adding to the pleasure of unraveling this period-piece mystery.