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Monday, 8 July 2019

‘The Murder of Harriet Monckton’ by Elizabeth Haynes

Published by Myriad Editions,
18 July 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-912408-23-8 (PB)

History must be littered with unexplained deaths. Until comparatively recently, autopsies were rare and far from routine, forensic science hardly existed at all and cash-strapped law enforcers were only too glad to accept an obvious solution. But once in a while, a suspicious death was investigated thoroughly, and still no solution was found. 

So it was with Harriet Monckton, who was found in a chapel privy in Bromley, Kent, in 1843, five months pregnant and clearly poisoned; but despite two exhaustive inquests and a police investigation, no murderer was ever identified. 

Enter Elizabeth Haynes, a novelist with half a dozen well received mysteries under her belt and a keen curiosity and imagination. Faced with a small mountain of evidence from the inquests and the newspapers of the time, she decided to pick up Harriet's story and seek some justice for her. She has used this real-life murder as the basis for fiction, thus opening the investigation for a third time and this time positing a satisfactory conclusion.  

The novel is chunky, meaty and detailed, but still highly readable. Five distinct characters emerge: oily Reverend George Verrall, minister of the chapel; down-to-earth Frances Williams, schoolmistress and good friend to Harriet; gentle Tom Churcher, who was in love with her; selfish Richard Field, her former landlord; and Harriet herself, spirited, independent and more sinned against than sinning, seen partly through the eyes of others and partly through a diary she left behind. 

The gossipy, claustrophobic small-town atmosphere of Bromley pervades the entire narrative, peopled by a host of minor players, all with their own opinions. The narrative focuses on the evidence presented at the inquests, along with two rather more personal – and entirely fictional – accounts of the months leading to the murder; but there is a strong undercurrent of finger-pointing and whispering in corners. And of course in Elizabeth Haynes's mid-19th century Bromley there's a solution of the best kind: a surprise, but with a trail of clues firmly in place if only you'd picked them up. 

It takes skill to bring potentially tedious historical documentation to life, and Haynes possesses plenty. In a powerful and engrossing story, she uses the known facts to bring the inhabitants of Bromley to vivid life, allowing suspicion to fall in the  directions it must have pointed at the time – but puts a whole new slant on the 'she brought it on herself' undertone which must have surrounded the death of a pregnant unmarried woman, especially an attractive, vivacious one.  

Elizabeth Haynes's earlier contemporary police procedurals and psychological thrillers show her to be a talented and creative author with a knack for weaving stories out of dry procedures. This is quite different, and all the better for it, since it shows a whole new skillset. The Murder of Harriet Monckton is a substantial, several-sittings read, and an absorbing one.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick 

Elizabeth Haynes is a police intelligence analyst. She started writing fiction in 2006 thanks to the annual challenge of National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) and the encouragement of the creative writing courses at West Dean College. She lives in a village near Maidstone, Kent, with her husband and son.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural

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