The Second Mrs. Hockaday

Written by Susan Rivers
Review by Caroline Wilson

The Second Mrs. Hockaday is Susan Rivers’ debut novel, but she is no stranger to writing, as she was once a playwright and now teaches college-level English. Perhaps it is these influences that led her to write this novel, which is dramatized in the form of letters, diary entries, and court records.

Set during the American Civil War, The Second Mrs. Hockaday follows Placidia, the child bride of the much older Gryffth Hockaday. Hastily married, the two are separated when Gryffth must return to his regiment, leaving Placidia alone on his South Carolina farm with the responsibilities of caring for his young son. When Hockaday returns home after the war, he finds that Placidia has borne and murdered a child. So what happened during his time away?

The Second Mrs. Hockaday is an enthralling read and a welcome change in a market dominated with European-set historicals. The premise of the novel is compelling and does not skimp on period details. Rivers’ portrayal of the tragedy that was the American Civil War will pull on readers’ heartstrings. Everyone was affected, from the soldiers in the field to the women and children on the home front. Complex and morally ambiguous decisions had to be made in order to survive.

This novel will appeal to readers of historical mysteries, but also to those who like to delve into the social constructs of a time period. However, due to the novel’s epistolary nature, some readers may find difficulty in identifying with the vast cast of characters. Additionally, the various communiqués are authored by different characters, so it can be hard to keep track of events. Nonetheless, The Second Mrs. Hockaday is a wonderful debut that should not be missed.