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Published by Point Blank, 7 March 2019. ISBN: 978-1-78607-460-7
This is the second book by this father-and-daughter
writing team in their Australian-set Monsarrat series. It is 1825 and the
transported convict, Hugh Monsarrat, having solved the murder in The Soldier’s Curse (also reviewed in Mystery People), has now been granted
his ticket-of-leave, i.e. partial freedom on strict terms and has been sent to as
clerk to the governor of the colony. Except that one governor has just retired
and is returning to Britain and the new governor is still in Van Dieman’s Land
the colony’s administration is in the hands of Ralph Eveleigh, the governor’s
private secretary, who, aware of Monsarrat’s education and intelligence, is
anxious to make full use of him. And a recent serious event certainly requires
not only intelligence but discretion, and that is the murder of Robert Church,
superintendent of the women’s prison, the Parramatta Female Factory. The
Factory serves a multiplicity of purposes: it was a prison but without even
enough beds for the inmates; a place where an inmate could be taken on to work
or even to marry a settler; a place where the rations allocated to inmates were
skimmed for profit; a place where the inmates could be set to work to produce
goods which could be sold, not for the benefit of those who made them but to
contribute to the cost of running the Factory. And in this story a place where
the superintendent could sexually abuse any woman he chose. Monsarrat is
accompanied by his cook/housekeeper Hannah Mulrooney who also has a
ticket-of-leave. The relationship between Monsarrat and Hannah is much like
that of mother-and-son; she is older than him and sees him almost as a
substitute for her son, while he respects her both for her good nature (albeit
accompanied by a sharp tongue) and her shrewdness.
the corrupt and abusive Robert Church has been murdered and Monsarrat is tasked
with finding the murderer. He has to tread very carefully; one false step and
he could lose his ticket-of-leave and find himself breaking stones for
road-building. Eveleigh is comparatively tolerant of convicts, so long as they
do what they are told, but others, such as Daly, Robert Church’s replacement as
factory superintendent, the magistrate Socrates McAllister and the reverend
Horace Bulmer, are not and they are among others who believe that the murderer
must be the Irish convict Grace O’Leary, a forceful and intelligent woman who
has led protests about the conditions in which the female convicts are held. They
would be happy for such a known trouble-maker as Grace, whether or not guilty,
to be hanged. But Monsarrat is not fully convinced of Grace’s guilt. Meanwhile
Hannah has been recruited by Rebecca Nelson, the wife of a rich Quaker
merchant, to assist in her charitable work with the female convicts within the
Factory. And this is an admirable situation in which to gather further
information about not just Grace but the other women as well. But Hannah’s
inquiries lead her into great danger from someone who has an enormous amount to
lose and does not care who may suffer instead.
is a compelling and authoritative depiction of the earliest stages in the
history of a nation built on the foundations of the unjust system of
transportation and a punitive attitude towards offenders. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May
began his writing career in 1964 and has published thirty novels since. They
include Schindler's Ark, which won
the Booker Prize in 1982 and was subsequently made into the film Schindler's
List, and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith,
Confederates and Gossip From The
Forest, each of which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His most recent
novels are The Daughters of Mars,
which was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize in 2013, Shame and The Captives and Napoleon's
Last Island. He has also written several works of non-fiction, including
his memoir Homebush Boy, Searching for
Schindler and Australians. He is
married with two daughters and lives in Sydney.
is the co-author with her father Tom of the Monsarrat series of historical
crime novels, as well as of the upcoming historical crime novel Fled.
born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven
years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice.
Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional
work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of
her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published
late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal
flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a
third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology –
and is now concentrating on her own writing.