A series of crime novels set in 1820s New South Wales has been written by Meg Kenealy with her father, Tom Kenealy. The first book in the Monsarrat Series is The Soldier's Curse, published in 2016.
Set in the convict settlement at Port Macquarie the novel provides detailed description of life in a convict settlement including the demarcation between convicts, former convicts and the free (usually soldiers).This convict settlement is for those who have been convicted twice for offences. Hugh Monsarrat has been assigned as a clerk in the office of the Commandant of the settlement while he awaits his ticket of leave and transcribes the many documents relating to the management of the settlement. Working at Government House he befriends the house keeper, Mrs Mulrooney, as well a a young soldier who regularly visits the house.
The plot centres around the gradual decline in health and eventual death of the Commandant's wife, Honora. When the housekeeper is accused of murdering her mistress Monsarrat is left with the task of exposing the killer.
At times I suspected that the authors were not sure whether they were writing primarily about life in the convict system or writing a crime novel as the plot is intertwined with detailed descriptions of convict life. Being the first book in a series it also contains copious back stories providing information about the main characters which slow down the unravelling of the story. Hopefully other titles in the series will concentrate a little more on the plot if they are meant to be crime novels.
The book does provide an interesting fictional account of convict life in New South Wales. The second book in the series, The Unmourned, published earlier this year is set in the Parramatta Female Factory. Hopefully the storyline will move a little faster than in The Soldier's Curse. It will be interesting to watch the development of this series.
Review in The Australian 27 February 2016