The Case of the Emigrant Niece

Written by David Cairns
Review by Julia Stoneham

In this novel by David Cairns, we have a heroine whose inheritance, future happiness, and very life are under threat; at least two heroes; several worthies; some not so worthy; and one unremitting villain. This well-constructed 19th-century tale is set in Gold Rush Australia, in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands, and on ships plying between various ports. All these locations are expertly woven into the development of the solid plot and the characters’ storylines. Melbourne, particularly, is brought vividly to life as a burgeoning metropolis, struggling to transform from the chaos of the exploitation of the goldfields into one of Australia’s great cities.

The style of this novel has more in common with Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone than with a 21st-century publication. It tells its story in an absolutely straightforward manner, so that however much the reader may expect (or even hope for) a twist in its tail, there isn’t one.

The novel begins as a first-person narration by Findo Gask, one of our two heroes, but as things progress, Findo develops a very comprehensive knowledge of events in which he has not been an immediate participant. This aspect of the storytelling is quite charming, although it does bend the rules a bit.

It is hard to believe that David Cairns has written this book now, as it is so thoroughly immersed in the period and the locations in which it is set. Some may be irritated by its shameless datedness and infinite attention to meticulous detail, both aspects which I relished and found enchanting.