It works for P.J Tracy and for Nicci French so why shouldn’t it work for Meg and……. Tom Keneally!?
I did a double take, I really did, when I heard of this partnership. Possibly because I revere Tom Keneally. Schindler’s Ark had me visiting Krakow at the first opportunity to find Oskar Schindler’s factory!! However, practically, I doubt this book will see me jetting it to the Antipodes to find the site of the Port Macquarie penal colony. And not because I didn’t enjoy the novel. I did, I thought it was marvellous.
I watched the BBC 2 drama series Banished, aired in 2015, which is set in an earlier period than this book but afforded me a strong visual connection with many of the incidents detailed in this novel. It also served to reinforce the accurate historical research that gives this story so much of its richness.
As well as being an historical novel it is also an intelligent and engrossing crime story. The first in the series the main protagonist is Hugh Monsarrat, erstwhile forger and fraudster, elevated to clerical work for the commander of the penal settlement. My research shows that the second book is already available in Australia and that an entire series is planned for Monsarrat. That’s all good news as far as I’m concerned.
Initially I found I had to reread the first few pages and I feared this book would be an arduous read! But it was a merely a case of adjusting to the style of writing which having done so was wonderful. Set in 1825 the narrative is written in the vernacular of the time so effectively you almost find yourself thinking and speaking in the same way. It’s one thing to use extensive historical research effectively in a novel, factually, but to capture the etymology of the time is skill indeed.
The narrative is tight and the plot well constructed and accessible. It is the proving of the crime rather than the solving of it that becomes key in the latter stages of the book. But the reader is subtly allowed to accompany the characters as the fiction progresses rather than remain as bibliophilic bystanders. It was refreshing to be so involved in a story so far removed from contemporary life.
The characters are substantially drawn and you warm or shrink from them as each deserves. I love it when ‘bit part’ characters are imbued with as much life as the main characters. There is some brutality in the book and the characters respond appropriately but there is also some wit, humour and warmth.
This is a solid and intelligent read. It’s story telling mainly but the history is interesting and informative. There is a comprehensive Author’s Note at the end which clarifies several points of fiction versus history.
I was delighted to received this book from Real Readers but even more delighted to actually read it. I look forward to more in the series which I believe features not only Monsarrat but Mrs. Mulrooney too. Who’s she, you ask? Go and read the book!!