The Cartographer’s Secret

Written by Tea Cooper
Review by Gini Grossenbacher

In 1880, at her house at Yellow Rock, New South Wales, talented Australian sketch artist Evie Ludgrove shares her father’s obsession with the famous explorer Dr. Ludwig Leichardt, who vanished in the Australian wilderness. After creating a map that follows her father’s leads and seeking The Bulletin magazine’s thousand-pound reward, she heads out into the wilderness on a quest to find Leichardt’s last known whereabouts. On her expedition, she vanishes without leaving any clues to her disappearance.

In 1911, following the loss of her brother Thorne in an automobile accident, Letitia Rawlings escapes her wealthy mother’s house in Sydney. She moves to Evie Ludgrove’s former dwelling to stay with her aunt Olivia, who remains haunted by Evie’s disappearance after twenty years. Captivated by Evie’s story and curious about what happened to her, Lettie follows points north from Yellow Rock toward Aberdeen. With the help of the drover Nathaniel and the blacksmith Denman, she embarks on a quest to follow Evie’s map and discover where she vanished. After a series of loops following the crash of her tin lizzie, the group makes startling discoveries that may lead her to Evie’s last known place.

Lettie’s growing attraction for Nathaniel highlights the social rift between the drover society and the landed gentry in Sydney. He becomes involved with Lettie in her search for Evie, helping her navigate her journey’s challenging physical and emotional landscape. Yet, they face an unknown future since they are from different social classes.

Tea Cooper’s meticulous prose and deft phrasing delight the reader. Her storytelling weaves the places on Evie’s map in tandem with the search Lettie makes so that the reader becomes immersed in a distant world. The reader yearns along with Lettie (and Evie, too) for the answer to Leichardt’s disappearance and wants Lettie and Nathaniel to surmount the chasm that separates them. This fascinating novel informs the reader about Australia’s storied past.