Review: 'Lizzie Newton' Needs to Take a Chill Pill

Lord knows I love a good mystery, and the puzzle at the heart of the first volume of Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries is a decent one, but this teen-girl manhwa (Korean comic) makes you plow through a lot of silliness to get to it.

The story is set in 1864 among the British upper crust, and it makes the most of both the period setting and Victorian attitudes toward women. In fact, it leans way too hard on those attitudes, presenting Lizzie as a smart, independent woman who spends so much time fuming at her sexist contemporaries that it takes away from the story at hand.

This is a shame, because the murder itself is fairly interesting: A man is found in a locked room, dead of a gunshot wound to the head. The signs point to suicide—he was recently jilted by a lover and has been noticeably depressed; he dresses oddly, in imitation of a suicidal character in a German novel; and, of course, the room where he is found is locked from the inside, with no other means of entrance or exit.

Lizzie is a writer of mystery stories for the popular press (under a pseudonym), but she is also a society lady, and when the gunshot rings out, she is having tea with the deceased's sister and some friends. She rushes to the scene and proceeds to, depending on how you look at it, investigate or corrupt the evidence. She quickly concludes that the apparent suicide is a setup.

The police who respond to the scene, however, dismiss her observations as the ravings of an overwrought female. How to convince them? Lizzie may be ahead of her time, but her time (and the genre) demands that she have a male help her out. Preferably a hot male.

Enter Edwin, an orphan taken in by Lizzie's father who grew up to be a famous barrister (lawyer) and then threw it all over to become Lizzie's personal steward—thus ensuring that he will always be close to her but that he can never marry her, because of the difference in their stations. It's an odd little plot twist, the sort of thing that makes sense for a writer setting up a story but doesn't really mirror what real people would do. The improbability of that aside, Edwin is actually a pretty good confederate for Lizzie, as he genuinely likes her and with his barrister's mind, he can think his way through a puzzle mystery just as quickly as she can.

So when the inspector from Scotland Yard, who looks like he is about 14, comes round to hear what Lizzie has to say (and berate her for messing with the crime scene), Edwin and Lizzie are ready for him, and it's all solved and each element explained in the finest mystery-novel fashion.

The art for this story is clean and hard-edged, a style that will look familiar to readers of manhwa (Korean comics), and artist Ki-ha Lee does a nice job with the period settings and especially the elaborate gowns of the female characters. But the story is simply too spazzy, and the characters are constantly in some high emotional state, either blushing or glowering, which detracts from what is really a nice story.

These flaws may be magnified by the fact that this is a first volume, so it necessarily includes a lot of setup. Yes, Victorian society minimized women, and yes, Lizzie is a smart girl who isn't going to put up with that, but the stories have to get beyond that in order to reach their full potential. It would be nice to see this series evolve into a good mystery series, rather than stay on the shallow level of the spunky girl who rebels at the society she lives in.

In addition to print publication, the book is being serialized online.