The Murder of Harriet Monckton
This classic tale drops you straight into 1843, the early Victorian era, when unmarried women evidently became pregnant on their own. Men, even the most rapacious employers, felt themselves no more than aggrieved bystanders when the maid or acquaintance they’d shared sex with became pregnant. The author makes this attitude a living character in the novel, a malevolent force partly responsible for Harriet’s real murder.
The author, Elizabeth Haynes, writes contemporary procedural mystery/thrillers that garner good reviews for their realism and plotting. She reveals in her afterword that, while researching another book, she had stumbled upon a couple documents about Harriet Monckton, a pregnant 23-year-old murdered in Bromley, on the outskirts of London, in 1843. It’s hard to imagine another author better suited to write this convincing, atmospheric, frustrating, and compelling story. It’s written from the alternating points of view of the men that the investigators suspect: Harriet’s seductive former London landlord; the pompous, self-righteous and adulterous minister of the chapel where Harriet attended services; and the naïve, tongue-tied young townsman who fell in love with her. There’s also, thankfully, the clear-thinking voice of Frances Williams, Harriet’s friend and fellow teacher, who prefers the company of women. And yet the reader is drawn to suspect even Frances because of her unrequited love for Harriet.
Haynes brilliantly allows the reader into the innermost thoughts of all these characters, each guilty in their own way, and yet keeps the satisfying secret of who the poisoner was unrevealed until the very end. Recommended.