The girl held her Nerf gun close to her chest. “It’s not fair!” she hissed at me. “I got that girl, and she’s still shooting!” Suddenly she stood and began shouting. “Hey! I got you! You’re dead!”
I waved her down.
“But it isn’t fair,” she protested, huddling under the protection of the table.
“No one’s playing by the rules here,” I said impatiently. “‘Fair’ doesn’t matter.” I studied the soft foam bullet in my palm. Was the world even fair? I loaded my gun. Did we impede justice, or did it support it?
I shot, and missed.
The Woman in White, written by Wilkie Collins, is one of the first mystery novels. It tells the story of Walter Hartright, a young art teacher, who, as he walks down a road one night, encounters a strange figure: a woman dressed entirely in white. When he falls in love with Miss Laura Fairlie, who looks eerily similar to the woman in white, he becomes embroiled in a dark affair that becomes murkier as time goes on. What is truth, and what is deception? And who is the woman in white?
The legal approach to this novel makes it intensely interesting. Collins went to law school in London, and, although he never practiced, the extent of his legal knowledge is apparent in this book. It is written from several perspectives, or “Narratives;” almost as if each witness were testifying of the story. Collins is also extremely clear and precise in his language. But these aspects do not make the novel seem toneless; it is lively without being forced, and mysterious without being confusing.
Justice is a recurring theme in The Woman in White. Walter Hartright, although somewhat of an everyman character, is a firm believer in fairness, charity, and truth. But as he looks deeper into the story of the woman in white, the lines between justice and criminality, compassion and contempt, truth and lines become so blurred that he cannot distinguish which is which. What is right? What is wrong? How much does he need to prove for someone to believe his story?
The Woman in White is a thrilling story, written with a thorough hand and an imaginative mind. It also raises questions about justice, honor, and humanity itself. Perhaps it is a little like a foam bullet: soft and harmless—at least on the outside.
High school mystery, ages 14 and up.
You can buy this book here.