Classic Book Review: The Law and the Lady

The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins

The Law and the Lady
by Wilkie Collins, David Skilton (Editor)

4 out of 5 stars

When Valeria marries Eustace, she discovers that some dark secret has made him marry her under a false name. She meets his mother and finds out his true identity. She appeals to his friends to find out what terrible secret he is hiding. He begs her to leave it alone and warns her that it will only drive them both apart, but she persists and finds that he was accused of a terrible crime and never quite proven innocent. Valeria embarks on a desperate search for evidence that will prove her husband’s innocence, and it leads her down a dark path of insanity. In the meantime, her husband, frustrated with her stubbornness, abandons her. She must sift through rumors of suicide, poison, lies, cruelty, and madness to arrive at the truth.

This is more of a sensational thriller than I thought it would be. It definitely has some dark and cruel scenes, especially when Valeria asks for help in her investigations from Mr. Dexter, a man with a disability and a wild imagination. He keeps many curious items of art in his home, which depict atrocities that shock and frighten Valeria. But he is the only one who seems to have the key to this mysterious crime her husband was accused of, so she continues to seek his advice. Eventually Mr. Dexter shows signs of insanity, and Valeria wonders if whatever happened in that dark past has unhinged his reason.

The writing is brilliant, and the mysterious plot keeps the reader guessing through an impenetrable web of clues and red herrings. I was completely immersed in the story, and appalled or delighted with each emotional scene.

The characters are vivid and complex, especially Valeria, our main character. The story is told from her perspective and we get to follow her every step of the way as she blunders her way through the mystery, trying to make sense of the strange facts. The supporting characters are all so different with their own personalities and secrets. It was fascinating to read their dialogue and wonder if they were telling the truth, or hiding something, or whether they were lying to themselves too. There are so many layers of intrigue and personal motivation that made each character an enigma unto themselves.

There are triggers for insanity, institutionalization, suicide, abandonment, and abuse.

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