In the Port Macquarie penal settlement for second offenders, 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 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.
There are a handful of points that succinctly describe this first of the Monsarrat series by the father and daughter Keneally team. Firstly, that it is (and no doubt meant to be) an easy ‘whodunit’ read, that although set in the difficult and contentious convict era, keeps things light and entertaining.
Then there is the authorship question … who did the actually writing, Tom or Meg?
Thankfully, someone did their homework and discovered that Meg wrote and Tom edited, which made sense to us as no one felt The Soldier’s Curse was written in a typical Tom Keneally style.
Overwhelmingly, this book was considered a ‘good but not great’ read and that its biggest plus was the under-dramatized and ordinariness of convict life. A real breath of fresh air from the grisly and brutal depiction currently favoured.
Perfectly written with a screenplay in mind, the two main characters, Monsarrat and Mrs Mulrooney, combine to make the classic detective duo within an Australian historical context. Something we are sure will not be missed by film and TV producers.
Always supportive of Australian talent, we wish the Keneallys well with their latest project and our group will await the television series/movie with interest and careful optimism.