Books and Bites Bingo debut novel – The Soldier’s Curse by Meg and Tom Keneally (Monsarrat Series Book One)

 

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Ticking off my fourth square this time, the debut novel, I went with The Soldier’s Curse by Meg and Tom Keneally (Monsarrat Series Book One). This is Meg Keneally’s debut novel, though it is written with her father, Tom Keneally, who wrote Schindler’s Ark. This is the start of a series, set during colonial times in Port Macquarie, around 1825, and explores not only a crime, but also the history of the convict era and implications of being a convict, as well as the interactions with the local Indigenous people and ideas about how these interactions could have occurred and what they meant for different people – so it is an interesting look at how this may have happened.

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It is a complicated, and lengthy mystery, but finding out what happens at the end is very satisfying, and so the meandering road it takes to get to the resolution and main death is very well executed, and satisfying as you dig through the layers and uncover who the characters are. The true nature of the crime and those involved is also quietly bubbling away in the background as suspects are mentioned and dismissed until the true killer is uncovered. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

I’m hoping to read the rest of the series this year, and it is going to be one that hits many categories in my reading challenges, some multiple times!

Onto the next square – I’m not sure what it will be but I can’t wait to fill it and reveal it to you!

The Soldier’s Curse (The Monsarrat Series Book One) by Meg and Tom Keneally

soldiers curseTitle: The Soldier’s Curse (The Monsarrat Series Book One)

Author: Meg and Tom Keneally

Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime

Publisher: Vintage/Penguin Random House

Published: 27th February 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A fast-paced, witty and gripping historical crime series from Tom Keneally and his eldest daughter Meg.

In the Port Macquarie penal settlement for second offenders, at the edge of the known world, gentleman convict Hugh Monsarrat hungers for freedom. Originally transported for forging documents passing himself off as a lawyer, he is now the trusted clerk of the settlement’s commandant.

His position has certain advantages, such as being able to spend time in the Government House kitchen, being supplied with outstanding cups of tea by housekeeper Hannah Mulrooney, who, despite being illiterate, is his most intelligent companion.

Not long after the commandant heads off in search of a rumoured river, his beautiful wife, Honora, falls ill with a sickness the doctor is unable to identify. When Honora dies, it becomes clear she has been slowly poisoned.

Monsarrat and Mrs Mulrooney suspect the commandant’s second-in-command, Captain Diamond, a cruel man who shares history with Honora. Then Diamond has Mrs Mulrooney arrested for the murder. Knowing his friend will hang if she is tried, Monsarrat knows he must find the real killer. And so begins The Monsarrat Series, a fast-paced, witty and gripping series from Tom Keneally and his eldest daughter, Meg.

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This is another series that I have had on my shelf for years and have only just started reading. All the books in this series are out, so hopefully I can get through them over the next few weeks or months. The first book introduces us to Hugh Llewellyn Monsarrat, a gentleman convict who is towards the end of his sentence in 1825. He is friendly with a local housekeeper, Hannah Mulrooney, and Hugh now works as the clerk for the commandant of the Port Macquarie settlement in 1825.

It is around this time that the commandant heads off – and his wife, Honora starts getting ill, and eventually dies. When Hannah is accused, Monsarrat sets out to uncover the real killer.

The mystery within The Soldier’s Curse starts out slowly – as an illness that the doctors have several ideas as to what it might be – but poisoning does not cross their minds until it is too late, and this is where it is clever, as once Honora dies, the investigation Hugh conducts ramps up – whereas  before he is an observer, and finds himself reflecting on the events that led him to where he is at the stage of the novel. As a result, there is a lot of backstory and build up, yet I think it helps contribute to the setting and feelings of the characters and mystery. Hugh is determined to prove Hannah Mulrooney is not guilty – the presumption that she is guilty because those in charge of finding out what happens ignore the access that others had to what may have to Honora and her home.

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Whilst Hugh navigates his position between the world of convicts, education and freedom, he also observes how the Indigenous people of the area the settlers named Port Macquarie – the Birpai – interact with the newcomers to their land, and the intersections of these communities in different ways – from those who do not come into contact, to the Birpai returning absconding convicts and to those mentioned who are said to have relationships (though this is not expanded on) with the settlers – of which, knowing history, there would have been negative ones as well as the positive ones hinted at in this book. As these stories are not always told, having them mentioned brings them to light at least, and readers can, from there, explore this area of history further to gain a better understanding of what happened in those early colonial days. It will be interesting to see how this is further explored in future books. There are complexities of relationships between convicts, jailers and free settlers, between the Indigenous people and the Europeans, and indeed, between the men and women, as well as between Englishmen and Irish or Scottish folk dealt with in this novel throughout. It felt as though these were carefully considered through the lens of Hugh, and based on his personality, and ways of understanding the world. Inequality is highlighted in many ways here – as is the hierarchy of everyone there. The way this is navigated throughout is consistently there, even if not mentioned on every page: there is a constant feeling that this is all going on at the time. It reflects a world where nobody quite understands each other and struggles to find a way to collaborate.

As the start of a series, it is very dense in establishing the character and his history,  yet as with any series with a key character, there is always more to come in subsequent books – the little things that have not come to the surface yet, and questions about the character that were not answered in the first book. I have the four that are already out on my shelf and hope to get through them all soon. It is an intriguing read about colonial history, and colonies other than Sydney Cove as well as the various interactions between the original inhabitants and those brought here for punishment, and the attitudes towards those two groups from the people who south to enforce their authority. A great start to a series.

Best books of 2010 to 2019

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In compiling this list, I had to go back to all my reading log lists – which I began in about 2006, and to date have over 1300 on my combined list. But in doing this, I discovered it was quite difficult to narrow things down to just a handful of ten or fifteen like Theresa did. In fact, there was one series that had one book a year from 2010 to 2019 that could have made up my entire list – but instead, it has comprised one entry as a series.

So, in no particular order:

The Matilda Saga (2010 – 2019)

The Matilda Saga began with A Waltz for Matilda in 2010 and ended this year with the ninth and final book, Clancy of the Overflow. It tells history from a different side – the voices often silenced based on race, gender, class or a combination of these, and other factors such as disability, and other experiences that are not always recorded in the history books. From 1894 to the 1980s, the series spans nearly one hundred years of changes in Australian society – from cars to Federation, to war and the social movements of the sixties and seventies. This is a series well-deserving of a place on this list.

Miss Lily series (2017-2019)

Miss Lily begins just before the outbreak of World War One and has taken us so far to the Wall Street crash of 1929, and the beginning of the Great Depression that would lead into Nazi Germany and another war that would see millions killed in concentration camps, and on the battlefield. With book four due out in 2020, this is a series I am watching keenly to see where it takes us and our beloved Sophie. The Miss Lily series also has three e-books set at Christmas, one of which I am yet to read.

Medoran Chronicles (2014-2019)

This has a place as a whole series because this is the series that got my blogging journey started seriously – when the publisher was looking for reviewers for the first book, Akarnae. I said I would, and from there, the blog grew, as did my love for the series, reviewing each subsequent book for Pantera Press over the years until the final one earlier this year, Vardaesia. From wonder to heartbreak, and everything in between, this series has it all, and the way certain aspects are executed are exceptional and done in a way that is heart-warming, heartbreaking, and very, very fitting for the characters.

Rowland Sinclair Mysteries (2010 – 2019)

Ahh, Rowly. I was introduced to Rowland Sinclair by the NSW Writer’s Centre when they were seeking reviewers with book two, and since then, have read the entire series and sent the reviews to Pantera Press. I am looking forward to reading more of these books as they come out. Poor Rowly has been through many beatings and been caught up in investigating many murders, attacks and with politics that are quite the opposite to his brother, Wilfred. Accompanied by sculptress, Edna, fellow artist, Clyde, and communist Jewish poet, Milton, Rowly travels the world and Australia during the turbulent 1930s as Europe hurtles towards yet another war, twenty years after the end of the war to end all wars.

Kensy and Max (2018-2019)

I have read all four available Kensy and Max books, and love them all. They’re fun, and engaging, and filled with danger, wonder, intrigue and friends. As spy kids, Kensy and Max – twins – are training with fellow students at Pharos, whilst trying to keep the kids who aren’t spies at school from discovering what they are up to, and travelling across the world on various missions. From London to Sydney, Rome and Paris, it seems trouble will always find Kensy and Max – but they will always manage to find a way out of it and get back to their family.

2010

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Now by Morris Gleitzman

2011

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One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

2012

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Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

2013

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The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

2014

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The Sequin Star by Belinda Murrell

2015

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The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

2016

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss

2017

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Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

2018

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Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters by Belinda Murrell

2019

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488 Rules for Life by Kitty Flanagan

Again, many of these are Australian authors, some with multiple entries but their books just stayed with me and wouldn’t let me rest, for a variety of reasons. Of course, some appeared on my list for this year – as the books for the year, but these are the ones that made deep impacts on me, and the ones I can actually remember being published in these years – some I wanted to include I wasn’t sure but I loved them anyway and may need to write something about other books I have enjoyed at some point when things calm down. As for the ones with entries in both – these were ones that had such impact, it was difficult to choose which book from the series to include.

So rather than one per year, I probably now have closer to up to five for each year, and many are fairly heavy in what they deal with, but some are lighter, and filled with humour. It was very hard to decide – I wanted to include everything possible! Okay, 2016 has two entries – but for very different reasons. Upon reading the reviews you will see why. So there you have it. The books that made the biggest impressions on me for many, many reasons over the past ten years. Some authors get multiple mentions – because they wrote books that had many impacts on me and they created worlds I never want to leave, and worlds I will have to revisit.

 

Book Bingo Twenty-Five – A Novel over 500 pages, and BINGO – Card completed.’

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December already, and I have completed my bingo card for the year – BINGO! Over the past twelve months, with Theresa and Amanda, and several others, I have taken part in several challenges, including Book Bingo. This post will focus on my final square – a novel (or book) of over 500 pages, and in my next and final post for the year, I will do my final wrap up of the challenge, to link into an overall 2019 wrap-up in the new year.

 

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My final square was the 500-page book – which I always felt this year would be difficult as not many books had come across my desk that were 500 or more pages. However, on #LoveYourBookshopDay, I bought a book called Rebel Women Who Changed Australia by Susanna de Vries, and then received a review copy of The Book of Dust Volume Two: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman, and decided that would work too – as it was well over 500 pages. In fact, it was well over 600 pages!

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First, The Secret Commonwealth. Fans of His Dark Materials and La Belle Sauvage have been waiting a long time for this one. Taking place ten years after we leave Lyra in Oxford after her adventures, and twenty years after La Belle Sauvage, where Lyra is delivered by Alice and Malcolm to the safety of Jordan College, we are back with Lyra and Pan. But something is different. Readers have known something has changed with Lyra and Pan since The Amber Spyglass, but for a time, we’re not sure what – until a series of events sets Lyra and Pan off on a journey across Europe and Asia, in search of a secret city for daemons! Filled with adventure, thrills and mystery interspersed with the fantasy themes, this is a wonderful addition to the series, and very much deserves the lengthy review I gave it, especially after the way it ended and I hope we get a resolution to it soon. Some books need 500 or more pages – and this is one of them, as there is so much going on with Lyra, Pan, Malcolm, Hannah, Alice and the Magisterium, as well as old friends, Ma Costa and Farder Coram, that no word was wasted, and there was action and intrigue on every page and it slowed down where it needed to, and sped up where it needed to as well.

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The second book that I read for this square was Rebel Women Who Changed Australia, a biography that included the stories of women throughout Australian history from a variety of backgrounds who made ground-breaking changes in the industries they went into, even though many would doubt them. Many overlapped as well, and knew each other, which made it more interesting. Many of these stories were ones that I did not know initially, and nor did I know many of the names. I feel knowing these stories of these women, like not knowing our Indigenous history, is a huge oversight in our education system, where many accounts we read and learn about are from white men, even if these other, more diverse accounts were available. Knowing them is the exception, rather than the rule, and I believe there is room for all to be told, starting with books like this, which are really interesting and filled with the stories we should know.

BINGO!

Rows Across:

Row One: BINGO

A book with a red cover: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim – #AWW2019

Beloved Classic: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – AWW2018

A novel that has more than 500 pages: Rebel Women who Changed Australia by Susanna de Vries – #AWW2019, The Book of Dust Volume 2: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

A novella no more than 150 pages: Deltora Quest: The Forest of Silence by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019

Prize winning book: Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French – #AWW2019, Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail – #AWW2019

Row three: BINGO

Novel that has 500 pages or more: Rebel Women who Changed Australia by Susanna de Vries

 – #AWW2019, The Book of Dust Volume 2: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Fictional biography about a woman from history: Fled by Meg Keneally – #AWW2019

Themes of justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Book set on the Australian coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson – #AWW2019

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Well, that’s it for the year! I’ll be writing my final wrap up post for the twenty-first in the next week or so, and all the reviews will be collected there.

Crossing the Lines by Sulari Gentill

Updated-CTL-2018.pngTitle: Crossing the Lines

Author: Sulari Gentill

Genre: Literary Fiction, Crime

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 1st August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 265

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Winner of the Ned Kelly Best Crime Fiction Award 2018

When Madeleine d’Leon conjures Ned McGinnity as the hero in her latest crime novel, she makes him a serious writer simply because the irony of a protagonist who’d never lower himself to read the story in which he stars, amuses her.

When Ned McGinnity creates Madeleine d’Leon, she is his literary device, a writer of detective fiction who is herself a mystery to be unravelled.

As Ned and Madeleine play out their own lives while writing the other’s story, they find themselves crossing the lines that divide the real and the imagined.

This is a story about two people trying to hold onto each other beyond reality.

“…a pure delight, a swift yet psychologically complex read, cleverly conceived and brilliantly executed.” – Dean Koontz

“A tour de force!…a brilliant blend of mystery, gut-wrenching psychological suspense and literary storytelling… a shining (and refreshing) example of meta-fiction at its best – witty and wry, stylish and a joy to read.” – Jeffery Deaver

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What happens when author and character write about each other, each thinking that the other is their own creation? Sulari Gentill explores this in Crossing the Lines, as Madeleine d’Leon contemplates writing something so different to what she usually writes, the limb she goes out on with Ned McGinnity begins to bleed into her life – and Ned begins to write about her. Leaving behind her much-loved and sought-after private detective, Madeleine delves into the world of Ned McGinnity, a serious novelist writing about Madeleine the crime novelist, who writes quirky, whimsical mysteries.

Yet as Ned and Madeleine write about each other – a crime novelist writing about a serious novelist, and a serious novelist writing about a crime novelist – the lines between reality and fiction, writer and character begin to blur, and their worlds begin to meld. Madeleine seems to fall into Ned’s world more than him into hers, but there is a feeling of connection beyond creation between the two – where the author becomes the character and the character becomes the author, and two worlds begin to collide.

2019 BadgeSulari Gentill has stepped away from Rowland Sinclair here – yet as she also as the Young Adult Hero Trilogy, it is interesting and fun to see the different things she can do with her characters and how they each remain faithful to their own books and works. Here, she has cleverly explored the relationship between character and author, and the act of writing and where it can take the author – sometimes to places that the author least expects, as happens to Madeleine in this book.

Filled with the complexities of the relationship of character and writing, this book has a feeling of meta-fiction to it – where the author character is writing about her character, and vice versa. It can be a confusing concept to try and understand, it is in essence, a piece of work of fiction, where the author uses parody, or departs from the traditional conventions of the novel. In this case, using the fictional author’s character to tell story as well as the fictional author, in an attempt to look at the various ways genre can be explored and how authors respond to genre.

This was a fun read – a few people Sulari knows make cameos, adding to the metafiction feeling, and showing that there are many ways to tell a good story, and many ways to write a story. It is an intriguing read for all, and one that I managed to read in one sitting, and now I must wait for my next taste of Sulari’s work with the tenth Rowland Sinclair next year.

Blog Tour Part One – Book Review of Weapon by Lynette Noni

Weapon_3Dcover.pngTitle: Weapon

Author: Lynette Noni

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 5th November 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 410

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: I already knew he was a psychopath. But now?

He’s more dangerous than ever.

And I have less than twenty-four hours to stop him.

After escaping Lengard and finding sanctuary with the Remnants, Alyssa Scott is desperate to save those she left behind — and the rest of the world — from the power-hungry scientist, Kendall Vanik. But secrets and lies block her at every turn, and soon Lyss is left questioning everything she has ever believed.

When long-lost memories begin to surface and the mysteries of her past continue to grow, Lyss battles to retain her hard-won control. Allies become enemies and enemies become allies, leaving her certain about only two things: when it comes to Speakers, nothing is ever as it seems . . . and the only person she can trust is herself.

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Picking up almost immediately following the jaw-dropping events of Whisper, Alyssa Scott, who has awoken her Speaking ability, and started to make friends with the Remnants – Arryn, Kael, and the others who escaped Lengard with her, such as Cami, finds herself drawn into a world of more secrets. She discovers the truth about Lengard, and that it isn’t linked to the government as she has been told to believe. Now, she finds herself helping the Remnants as they try to stop Vanik and find a breakout Speaker when another group of Speakers appear. This group is not aligned with Lengard or the Remnants, and the deeper Lyss looks into things and starts to uncover secrets about her own past, and her family, she discovers that everything she has been told ever is not true.

Unsure of who to trust, Lyss is torn into memories of a past she’d been made to forget, and into the lives of people she thought dead for nearly three years. As people she thought she could trust become untrustworthy, loyalties are tested and those she thought were trying to hurt her prove otherwise, Lyss discovers the power and intent behind her words and thoughts – and how one word can change the world.

So this is part one of my blog tour, with a Q and A with the author to appear as well. I first interviewed Lynette during the Medoran Chronicles, and I’m looking forward to doing it again.

2019 BadgeHere, Lynette has created a fractured world – where certain people are kept away supposedly for their own good and the safety of the world, whilst others work to find a different result. In this world, it very much mirrors our current world with technology, and the landmarks of Sydney, but with a twist. Xanaphan has affected at least two generations of people – in ways that could never have been expected. The world that this creates is one of secrecy that runs parallel to our own world, in our own Sydney.

It is a fractured world – much like ours in some ways, where those who are different are, or can be cut out of society because of a difference they’ve got no control or choice over. Both Whisper and Weapon reflect a situation that allows power to be abused in a myriad of ways, instead of working towards acceptance of diversity.

There were many things that I enjoyed about this book. The intrigue about Alyssa and her past, her friends and the situation keep the book going, as mysteries about Alyssa’s past are uncovered – it was the appearance of this strain of the story that had me the most excited as I wanted to find out more about Alyssa. Arryn and Cami were my favourites. Even though at first, Arryn was prickly, she was a fantastic character who, whilst keeping secrets – did so for what I felt were the right reasons – to make sure things went smoothly, rather than the other characters who lied for their own means. I liked that Arryn warmed to Alyssa naturally and slowly – rather than seeming to instantly befriend her as Landon, Cami and Kael did. This made it feel like Arryn had a better understanding of Alyssa, and I loved seeing how Arryn slowly revealed herself and made sure Alyssa was safe.

Lynette Noni cleverly pulls together the secrets and reveals things when we need to know them, which gives the duology its oomph, and made me want to read on to the end to find out what happens to the characters, and ultimately. who can be trusted. She also manages to shock the reader, with a certain event that I never saw coming – all the hints dropped didn’t suggest anything untoward and that made it all the more powerful. In today’s world, words have power – perhaps not exactly like they have in this story. But they can certainly have an impact that we don’t intend and can result in something that we never want to happen.

Another great book from Lynette Noni – and I have now read and own all her books. I can’t wait to see what happens next with Lynette, and I’ll be awaiting her next offering from Pantera Press, who introduced me to her books and the world of book reviewing, and I am very grateful for that experience.

The Case of the Wandering Scholar (Laetitia Rodd #2) by Kate Saunders

wandering scholar.jpgTitle: The Case of the Wandering Scholar

Author: Kate Saunders

Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia

Published: 1st October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: It is 1851 and Mrs Rodd has received an unusual commission: wealthy businessman Jacob Welland is dying of consumption and implores our redoubtable detective to find his beloved brother, whom he has not seen for fifteen years.

Joshua Welland was an Oxford scholar; brilliant, eccentric and desperately poor. Nobody can say exactly when he disappeared from his college, but he had taken to wandering the countryside and one day simply failed to return. Since then, there have been several sightings of his lonely, ragged figure. Ten years ago a friend spotted him in a gypsy camp, where it was rumoured he was learning great secrets that would one day astound the world.

Mrs Rodd uses her search as an opportunity to reconnect with a couple from her past, but then a violent murder is committed and Scotland Yard are called to investigate. Mrs Rodd’s old friend Inspector Blackbeard doesn’t want to hear any nonsense about gypsies or secrets. Mrs Rodd, however, is convinced that something very sinister is lurking in this peaceful landscape.

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Following a current trend in crime fiction, where the setting shifts to the nineteenth century, or a situation where the investigator or investigators don’t have access to the technology our favourite crime fighters in many television shows like Criminal Minds and NCIS have. And this is where the Laetitia Rodd series is interesting. Set in the 1850s, Mrs Rodd is a private investigator – with a friend in the police force – Mr Blackbeard – who seems torn between wonder at what she can achieve, and between maintaining the societal norms and gender norms of the day.

In her second outing, Mrs Rodd is called upon to help find a missing scholar, Joshua Welland, who has been spotted after ten years, hiding in a gypsy camp. During her search, Mrs Rodd reconnects with a couple from her past – Arthur and Rachel Somers until an horrific death tears the couple apart – and Mrs Rodd’s mystery deepens.

Because this is set in 1851, it takes much longer to uncover evidence, to gather information and determine who the right killer is. Without the convenience of instant contact, phones, and tracking systems, Mrs Rodd and her friends must rely on slower communication, and other ways of gathering information to uncover the truth behind Welland’s disappearance, and the murders.

In a way, this is quite delightful, as it allows the characters to develop along with the crime, and the secrets are easier in a way to keep and hide, and this makes the outcome satisfying. All investigators work hard for their cases and have their challenges. Private investigators face the challenge of not having access to resources that the police do, so they have to get creative.

Mrs Rodd is a very creative and clever private detective, using the skills and tools she has at hand as a woman in the 1850s to solve not only the murder case, but find out about Joshua Welland – his secrets and where he has been. Much like the first book, which came out three years ago, I very much enjoyed this one. She sits comfortably amongst all the other private detectives – Rowland Sinclair, Phryne Fisher, Sherlock Holmes and many others – to breathe new life into the crime genre and give it a new set of characters and a new way of looking at private investigators. Some are reluctant, some are keen, and some grow into it. This was a delightful addition to the series, and I hope there are many more to come.