[Reading] ➼ The Soldiers Curse (Monsarrat #1) By Meg Keneally – Dolove.info
Froggart and Daines looked unreliable, and Slattery blamed them for looking like that But Monsarrat knew it had been bred into them the powerful had proved to them that surface reliability got you nowhere in the end They were not characterised so much by sullenness, a quality often attributed to convicts, but by great wariness their eyes were foxy because they believed they needed to be foxes to negotiate the system.Hugh Llewellyn Monsarrat of Exeter, is the clerk for the commandant of the Port Macquarie penal colony, in June 1825 Originally transported to Sydney for fraud and forgery, the educated but poor Monsarrat obtained his ticket of leave only to lose it by being found outside of Windsor after curfew his condition of release The Port Macquarie settlement houses second offenders, with little chance of escape, but has an enlightened commandant in Major Shelborne, recently married to Honara from a noble Irish family, who tries to make life better for the few women convicts there.As a special status convict, Monsarrat has certain privileges, his own draughty hut with a small garden, and he is allowed to visit the kitchen of the Commandant s Irish housekeeper, Mrs Mulrooney, for cups of tea, often finding there the gilded tongued Private Fergal Slattery.When former convict Kiernan, living among the Birpai people, brings news of a river to the north with pasture suitable for grazing cropping not reached by explorer John Oxley, Major Shelborne sets out with a small party and a local tracker to verify the claim, leaving his second in command, Captain Diamond in charge of the settlement Diamond is a totalitarian given to brutality, with a dim view of convict stock and the local indigenous people At the same time the commandant s wife is taken ill, nursed by the housekeeper, who is accused of her murder through administering arsenic, and Monsarrat tries to defend her.I am not a great fan of historic fiction whodunnits, and at times found this slow going, especially the backstory of Monsarrat s experiences in London, Exeter and Sydney But this was compensated by the detail of the conditions in situ the lime burners and work gangs and summary punishments, the clothing, footwear made of straw, the surgeon working with limited resources, the women plying the oldest trade to survive, and Monsarrat using a twig from a eucalyptus tree as a toothbrush It sheeted home that the troops guarding the convicts were as such captives to the same environment.One detail I needed to look up was the king at the time George IV, who as regent succeeded to the throne on the death of his father, mad King George III, in 1820, and survived him by only ten years I thought that could have been included somewhere But all in all, not a bad read, and sets the scene for later books in the series. Excellent I really enjoyed this book and tossed between giving it 4 or 5 stars because I am probably biased in that Historical Fiction in particular Australian is my favourite genre to read, in the end I decided to give it the full 5 stars because I did thoroughly enjoy it This is my kind of book, I got so excited when I noticed it on the shelf in the bookstore and read the blurb, and upon reading the book, I was not disappointed.I loved the language, the characters, and the settings, and the delivery was superb and without fault I can t wait for the next book in the series.This story is the first in what is to be a series and is a debut for Meg Keneally who worked in concert with her father author Thomas Keneally on this project, a project that I am now very keen to follow.I don t intend to go into details of the story here as I know the blurb does that effectively.What I do want to say is what an exciting story this was, and a wonderful beginning to a new series by a new Aussie author I can t wait to read the next installment and sincerely hope it won t be too long in the making.Meg Keneally adds a unique fresh voice to this genre which I believe has lots of scope for quality stories such as this.Australia s diverse and challenging history has so much to offer this genre of writing without any risk of overkill, there are so many stories just waiting to be told So it is refreshing for readers like myself, who love these stories, to see new authors venturing here Well done Meg Keneally, I am excited at the prospects of to come The book is filled with fascinating examples of early Australian habits and lore, and what might possibly be the origins of many recognizable sayings such as, drawing the short straw My favorite quote in the book was on the subject of the correct length of time for brewing the best cup of tea, in short the housekeeper saysI usually leave it for two Hail Mary s and an Our Father Love that Highly recommended 5 s 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 This is a very fine historical murder mystery set in a 1920s convict settlement in Australia Meg and Thomas Keneally have carried out very thorough research to capture the feel and appearance of the settlement at Port Macquarie would have been like at that time Port Macquarie was where re offenders were sent those convicts who received their ticket of leave and then violated it s conditions or committed another crime Hugh Monsarrat was one such re offender, sent to Sydney for forging documents and setting himself up as a lawyer in Exeter without the required qualifications After working as a clerk and gaining his ticket of leave, he made a stupid mistake and found himself sent to Port Macquarie, where he was fortunate to be selected to clerk for the commandant, Major Shelbourne While he bides his time until he is free again, Monsarrat settles into a comfortable routine, starting his days sharing a cup of tea before work each day in the kitchen of the Major s housekeeper, Hannah Mulrooney, one of his few friends in the settlement While Major Shelbourne is away looking for a rumoured new river system, a heinous crime occurs and Hannah is blamed.I always enjoy historical fiction based on facts and this is exceptionally well done The authors have also drawn many fine characters in Monsarrat, Hannah, the Major and his wife Honora as well as the Major s second in command the intolerant and violent Captain Drummond They also portray the local Aboriginal community, the Birpai with compassion, in contrast with the soldiers and convicts limited understanding of them and their culture The plot was also well developed with a slowish start to introduce the characters and their backgrounds and then some hints of how the crime was committed but the culprit and motive not really clear until close to the end It took me a while to get around to reading this but I m so glad I have finally done so and look forward to reading the next book in the series soon. The penal settlement of Port Macquarie in northern New South Wales is where the worst of the worst are sent, including second offenders This is where we are introduced to Hugh Monsarrat, formerly of London and Exeter, transported for fraud and forgery His fine penmanship and skill as a clerk have landed him a reasonably privileged place at Port Macquarie, working as clerk to the Commandant, Major Angus Shelborne Monsarrat enjoys the benefits of his own little cottage and garden, and a certain amount of time to spend in the kitchen of Government House, taking tea with the housekeeper, his good friend Mrs Mulrooney It could be a lot worse, but still Monsarrat is longing for the day his second ticket of leave is granted.While the Commandant is away exploring the region for a rumoured new river, his wife Honora falls ill and progressively succumbs to her illness Dr Gonville pronounces it a case of poisoning and the spotlight of guilt quickly falls on Mrs Mulrooney, who has been nursing Honora day and night during her sickness It is up to Monsarrat to defend his friend and identify the true poisoner.Although the first half of the book was quite slow I still enjoyed it as I got to know the main characters and became familiar with Port Macquarie Monsarrat is a fabulous creation a witty, intelligent criminal who you will empathise with as a victim of circumstance Mrs Mulrooney, a free woman, is quite different in personality but every bit his equal in intellect Think the Holmes Watson of 1820s NSW I look forward to reading what they get up to next. I feel that I must disagree with the description in the blurb that this is fast paced and gripping I found it was a compelling read with a slow build up to quite an interesting outcome Although I enjoyed reading it and liked the story it wasn t necessarily a page turner I did, however, enjoy the wonderful writing and description of penal Australia and especially having been to Port Macquarie it wasn t difficult to imagine that time and place The Keneallys certainly did their homework and the accuracy of historical facts and the description of the land and time makes it a perfect read The characters were very well fleshed out and three dimensional I really loved Monsarrat and Mrs Mulrooney and Major Shelborne I even couldn t help but feel some empathy for some of the villains There were parts of this that reminded me of C J Sansom and the Shardlake series Overall this was a 3.5 star read and I will definitely be keen to read the next one. This is a book that I had been looking forward to for quite a while and it completely exceeded all the expectations I had for it Book one in the Monsarrat series, set in the 1820 s ish, The Soldiers Curse introduces us to Hugh Monsarrat, deported to Sydney for forging documents and passing himself off as a lawyer Following his release there he made an error of judgementt that landed him in Port Macquarie, a convict once and this time in a settlement designed for reoffenders and so, harder than Sydney For this second sentence Hugh is serving as the clerk for the settlement s commandant and while he is in many ways in a very favourable situation for a convict at Port Macquarie, the life there is hard and hazardous, Monsarrat yearns for his ticket of leave and his freedom As he serves out his sentence, often lonely and always constrained by his conflicting status, on one hand a gentleman and a clerk, on the other hand a convict , one of his social contacts and unlikely comforters is the other main protagonist that will continue with the series, Hannah Mulrooney A free woman originally deported for minor crimes, she is now the housekeeper for the commandant and his lovely young bride When the commandant s wife dies, the second in command tries to pin the murder on Mrs Mulrooney and Hugh must intervene to prevent her from hanging.That is the story line, and it is a very satisfying story line which has all the right combinations of complexity and simplicity to make the story roll, but the real joys in this book lie in elements beyond the actual story line or the excellent characterisations of the main characters and the diverse, fascinating and well researched elements of the many secondary players in the drama It is really the setting, the attention to historical detail and the impressive knowledge of the times and circumstances that won me over I loved the descriptions of Port Macquarry and the details of the daily life of the convicts I found the descriptions of the Birpai tribe of traditional land owners was fascinating and tasteful and the attitudes of the westerners towards them were managed very deftly It is difficult to write a work of fiction in that era or relations between British and Aborigines without being crass and offensive, or hopelessly inaccurate This book did a pretty good job of it, I thought.So, while I was expecting a good yarn, I also thought it would be a little formulaic and I was delighted to find it was not at all the case Vivid, descriptive and innovative I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to in the series A enjoyable extra is the authors note at the back, where the two authors go into sources and miscellaneous facts about the historical sources for the Port Macquarie penal settlement its maps and historic figures , as well as other details that helped flesh out this extremely enjoyable, historic whodunnit. As one would expect from the Keneally s this is a quality read The story takes place at Port Macquarie NSW 1825 The main character of Hugh Llewellyn Monsarrat is a convict clerk attached to Commandant Major Angus Shelborne Monsarrat is an intelligent man but whose past fraudulent and deceiving actions has seen him shipped to Australia as a convict in lieu of the hangman s noose so on this count he is lucky Because of his past employment experience as a law clerk he has managed to avoid mostly the hard labour inflicted on convicts with only a small stint in this respect required of him With the Major needing a scribe Monsarrat has a relatively cushier position than most convicts However as with small settlements of this nature, and given the times of inequality Monsarrat is always cautious with his remarks so they are not misconstrued and subsequently give reason for any chastisement and further punishment The authors describe the method by which convicts in the main addressed an answer to a question which today is practiced well by politicians i.e giving an answer to question without giving an answer and simply repeating the question as a statement or making a criticism simply as a statement The Major s new wife arrives at the settlement, fits in well with the harsh environment and commences to involve herself with the welfare of the convicts and their children until falling ill with an unknown ailment and for which she subsequently dies Monsarrat s main confidant is the housekeeper cook attached to the Major s household, a ticketed now free Irish woman, Mrs Mulrooney Through a series of events implications of the source of Honora s sickness points to a rather nasty Captain who is besotted with Honora but when Monsarrat bravely confronts him, he denies any involvement With further investigations taking place it is deduced that Honora had been poisoned and for which implicates Mrs Mulrooney Not satisfied with this accusation and on looking back at previous events Monsarrat is able to discover the real perpetrator Through his endeavours even though the conclusion is a sad affair for him and Mrs Mulrooney, Monsarrat is able to achieve his dream that for years had eluded him This read gives accounts of the harsh penalties given to convicts for small misdemeanours, the lashings and subsequent imprisonment with only bread and water which must have done very little to reform anyone. 3.5 On the platform was the hangman, like a burned tree in his executioner s black Port Macquarie, NSW is a popular beach holiday spot these days, but in 1825, it was a miserable penal colony, hemmed in by the ocean and the wilds of the hills, bush, and the Birpai people It would have been a rotten life for convicts, with the threat of the whip or the noose never far from their minds, but it wasn t much better for the soldiers and emancipated prisoners who d earned their tickets of leave.Monsarrat is a very bright, self educated man who was transported for posing as a barrister in England, narrowly escaping the noose there We meet him as a special convict, acting as clerk to Major Shelborne and enjoying a morning cuppa in the kitchen As aSpeciala convict with skills which equipped him for than hauling timber and breaking rocks he was tacitly allowed certain indulgences such as visiting the kitchen, as long as he didn t make them too visible This is important to his well being than one might think Port Macquarie was a busy lime burning area, where the convicts burned oyster shells to make the lime that was used to bind the building bricks Unfortunately, they regularly burned themselves as well It was a common jest though a grim one in the settlement to say that if you did well on a lime burning gang, you might get a promotion to a chain gang Monsarrat had worked on a gang for a short time, and he reckoned it nearly killed him But enough of the miseries of life there, the gangrenous feet that were cut off because their straw shoes were no protection in the constant mud, or they d been mercilessly flogged.The highlights of the story for me are the characters It began slowly enough that I wondered if I d get interested, but about a third of the way through I realised I was enjoying the company of this group, especially Monsarrat, of course, and Mrs Mulrooney, who runs her kitchen by scrubbing everything and issuing exhortations to the pots and utensils to behave themselves She cooks for the Major and his wife, the lovely, lively Honora Shelborne, who is taken ill early in the book Fergal Slattery is a cheeky young Irish soldier whose life in Ireland was so harsh that he seemed determined to make the best of it here He often joins them in the kitchen for a cuppa with Mrs Mulrooney cheerfully mothering them both as well as her mistressI have the King himself feeding me now, and giving me a tour of the world besides,he had told Monsarrat over one cup of tea or another Most convicts who abscond are caught, but one has remained with the Birpai people, who have been surprisingly accommodating to the newcomers, possibly thinking some of these white people were ghosts of their ancestors We get very little history about the Birpai because the story is about the characters and a mystery that eventuates rather than on dry historical facts I don t mean to suggest anything s been overlooked The sense of time and place are excellent and the facts we need are all there I m no expert, but I ve enjoyed other historical fiction about that era, and I can see why Meg Keneally mentioned the following in her acknowledgmentsMum s gone to 1825 again,was a frequent comment during the writing of this book I m glad she did and I look forward to her return and Monsarrat s in book 2, The Unmourned. The Port Macquarie penal settlement in 1825 was a harsh environment led by Commandant Major Angus Shelborne, one of the congenial of men who had run the colony But his second in command was a violent, cruel and sadistic man named Captain Diamond, and whenever the Major was absent from the settlement, Captain Diamond made the most of his position Convict Hugh Monsarrat was a well read man, and his knowledge led him to be the trusted clerk of Major Shelborne He was desperate for his ticket of leave so did all in his power to stay out of Diamond s way.Major Shelborne s wife Honora was a lovely young woman who was doing her best to make life for the female convicts a little better But when the Major left the settlement in search of a rumoured river many days ride away, Honora fell ill Her housekeeper, Hannah Mulrooney nursed her and didn t leave her side in the two weeks of her illness, with Monsarrat spending time with Mrs Mulrooney and asking after Honora s health His growing suspicions of what was ailing her worried him, but when he spoke to the doctor about his thoughts, the doctor dismissed them.But worse was to come and it led to a tense, increasingly frustrating time for Monsarrat as he tried to outwit the devil before another innocent person was sent to their death The Soldier s Curse is the first in The Monsarrat Series by Aussie author Meg Keneally and her father Thomas Tom It took me awhile to become involved with the characters, with the plot being slow and plodding but the tension soon ramped up and kept the pages turning I m looking forward to the 2nd which is set in Sydney at the Parramatta Female Factory Highly recommended.