Whilst chatting with Elizabeth Haynes on Twitter, she said “you see why I didn’t want her to be forgotten?” and I absolutely did. Also, and most importantly all the other ‘Harriets’ living in a time when women were treated as inferior within a patriarchal and hypocritical society. This is a book that explores the plight of the unmarried female and is based on a true murder case; it is clear this book is a labour of love by the author to give this young woman a voice and a justice, albeit within a dramatic fictionalisation. I think, that’s a truly remarkable aim that is certainly fulfilled for the reader. I have thought a lot about this book since finishing it and how it’s a rich, gripping read that pulls you into the events after and finally leading up to the murder with an engaging and driven narrative.
Harriet Monckton was murdered on the 7th November 1843, only 23 years of age, unmarried and six months pregnant. The story is told through the different perspectives of Francis Williams; Reverend George Verrall; Thomas Churcher and Richard Field. All four voices each with a motive for murder. I really enjoyed the plot structure, moving between the perspectives of these central players. The very clever portrayal of three very different men who all affect Harriet’s life. Verrall’s narrative is particularly foul to read, as he justifies his lustful and abusive treatment of women as a religious act, and Field’s narrative, albeit a seemingly caring man, is not at all what he first seems. The fourth, Francis Williams is the female voice, develops a friendship with Harriet and her story is also significant as a study of the unmarried female with her own desires and challenges.
What follows is a dark and disturbing psychological study of this group of people as we follow the events after the murder and into the community that is at the heart of it all. Towards the end of the novel, Haynes has included Harriet’s fictional diary and this is the particularly poignant moment for the reader and the threads finally come together. I really ‘enjoyed’ this part of the book, even though it was really sad and frustrating to read.
In summary, this book is like going back in time, it’s engaging, driven and a great murder mystery. We also have a culprit at the end, albeit a fictional one; it could easily been seen as a real possibility. It’s a shame Harriet’s murderer was never found and made to pay for their crime, but at least Haynes has given us a plausible fictional one, and in that, there is some justice for Harriet’s story.
I thoroughly recommend this book – an addictive read!