The Keneallys have hit their straps with this Monsarrat outing. The climax is violent and disorienting. Executions have punctuated Keneally’s historical novels and here we have another, for all that it is a dupe who hangs. The Unmourned concludes with Monsarrat being summoned again with news of his dispatch — on high tide the next day — to Van Diemen’s Land, ‘‘as remote as it was possible to be, dangling off the edge of the world as it did’’. The third instalment of Monsarrat’s dangerous tour of the convict settlements of Australia can be anticipated with relish.
This reader has already become very fond of the main protagonist Monsarrat, and his sharp witted housekeeper Mrs Hannah Mulrooney, and looks forward to their continuing crime-solving adventures. The charms of this series lie in its fast-paced delivery, deep backgrounds of the main characters and vivid description of life in the penal colonies.
As in the best historical crime series, archival evidence provides the structure for a story that riffs on a history that is also poignantly personal. There is, as Monsarrat and Mrs Mulrooney discover, much more at stake than murder. Not surprisingly given its origins, this is a series that takes social justice very seriously.
With The Unmourned, the second of the Monsarrat Series, Meg and Tom Keneally are well into their stride. I look forward to the follow up.
Not all murder victims are mourned, but the perpetrator must always be punished . . .
For Robert Church, superintendent of the Parramatta Female Factory, the most enjoyable part of his job is access to young convict women. Inmate Grace O’Leary has made it her mission to protect the women from his nocturnal visits and when Church is murdered with an awl thrust through his right eye, she becomes the chief suspect.
Recently arrived from Port Macquarie, ticket-of-leave gentleman convict Hugh Monsarrat now lives in Parramatta with his ever-loyal housekeeper Mrs Mulrooney. Monsarrat, as an unofficial advisor on criminal and legal matters to the governor’s secretary, is charged with uncovering the truth of Church’s murder. Mrs Mulrooney accompanies him to the Female Factory, where he is taking depositions from prisoners, including Grace, and there the housekeeper strikes up friendships with certain women, which prove most intriguing.
Monsarrat and Mrs Mulrooney both believe that Grace is innocent, but in this they are alone, so to exonerate her they must find the murderer. Many hated Church and are relieved by his death, but who would go as far as killing him?
Published: 19 March 2018