I love both crime fiction and historical fiction. When they’re combined, I love them even more. When famous Australian author Tom Keneally and his journalist daughter Meg placed their historical crime fiction in Australia I just couldn’t resist. ‘The Soldier’s Curse’ is the first book in a series featuring Hugh Llewelyn Monsarrat, a convict who has almost served his term.
Monsarrat was originally transported to Australia for impersonating a lawyer (normally a hanging offence). Fortunately, being literate, he was able to work as a clerk rather than on a work gang. This novel is set in Port Macquarie, a harsh settlement for second offenders, where Monsarrat is clerk to the settlement commandant Major Sheldon.
When Sheldon leaves Port Macquarie with a team to investigate reports of a new river in the area, his beautiful young wife Honora becomes ill. When she continues to deteriorate and dies, it becomes clear that she has been poisoned.
Captain Diamond is in charge of the settlement in Sheldon’s absence and quickly sets his sights on the housekeeper Hannah Mulrooney as the person with the greatest access to Honora.
But Monsarrat can’t see his kind and gentle friend Mrs Mulrooney as a murderer and sets about clearing her name by finding the real murderer.
The mystery itself was not very complex. The murderer was fairly obvious to the reader but Mrs Mulrooney would have hung if the murderer hadn’t confessed.
What made the book so interesting was the setting and the characters.
I found it difficult to think of the beautiful holiday destination of Port Macquarie as a harsh penal settlement, but the descriptions of the environment were excellent as were the descriptions of interactions with the area’s first people who only showed hostility when the white invaders took more than they needed from the land.
The harsher aspects of life as a convict were barely touched on in this novel – Monsarrat was barely inconvenienced by his lack of freedom. I look forward to more detail of the hardships in future novels.
I hope that we see the next addition to the series with Monsarrat back in Sydney fairly soon.
Next in series – ‘The Unmourned‘.
Book Published 2016