A first novel from the Australian author of the biography In Search of Mary Fortune (not reviewed) is an uneven but agreeably loopy literary detective story. Unemployed Mel's moping is interrupted when she runs into Nola, one of her dead father's ex-girlfriends. Nola's now office manager of Roxana Press, a feminist publisher, and, as luck would have it, there's a job available. The head of the firm recently found, among family papers, a serialized novel, printed in a gold- rush-territory newspaper in the 1860s: Mel is hired to research the anonymous author. With this challenging task on her plate, Mel recognizes just how grim her domestic life is. Her invalid roommate Mayzee is bossy and jealous, her boyfriend Marc a pre-med lunk. Aided by her whip-smart Aunt Edie, Mel becomes convinced on the basis of clues buried in the novel that a woman named Melvina Mary Yuill was its author. Her new boss is understandably skeptical, noting that Mel's own name is Melvina Marie. Mel dutifully does her research, uncovering Melvina Yuill references in various archives and cannily trading info with rival scholars and hacks. But Mel may be getting a little too close to her subject: She's having strange dreams of ship passages and trials; and she's buying Victorian clothing and earrings. As she becomes fixated on the notion that Melvina is her ancestor, Mel breaks with her dreadful roommate, loses her beloved aunt after deathbed revelations about Mel's real ancestry, finds a boyfriend who is a descendant of one of the novel's characters, and receives professional accolades for her sleuthing. But she has a life-threatening exorcism to endure before she can enjoy the fruits of her library skills. Eccentric characters and the nitty-gritty of research are strengths here, but an over-the-top run-in-with-the-dead ending mars what might have been a canny sketch of the psychological perils of biography.