By Hope Adams
This managed to combine two of my favourite genres – mystery and needlework. Okay, needlework is not really a fiction genre, but it is one of my interests.
It incorporates the true story of the voyage of the Rajah transporting one hundred and eighty female prisoners to Tasmania in 1841. This was during the period when the Quaker Elizabeth Fry was working to improve the conditions of female prisoners and those transported. One of her acts was providing women with sewing materials to take on the voyage which they could use to pass the time, and also create items to sell for money on arrival. It is likely that several quilts were made on these voyages, but the only one that is known to survive is that created on the Rajah. I was lucky enough to see this at the Quilt Exhibition in the V&A during 2009 – usually it is kept in Australia. It is a large complex quilt and having the image of it in my mind added to my appreciation of the references to the quilt throughout the book.
But I think even with my enjoyment of the needlework, I would have found the book a little uneventful if it had only been about the actual voyage. However, the author introduces a mystery, two mysteries in fact. From the very beginning one of the protagonists is hiding something, and it′s a serious enough secret that it would need to be kept silent by the act of murder. But she is not the only one with secrets since these women have been transported for various crimes, and have also been damaged by the hard life of the 19th century. The main narrators are the criminal with the hidden identity, and Kezia Hayter (a real historical character) who is the ″matron″ in charge of the prisoners, but we also learn about the characters of many of the other women. Their interactions and stories are vivid and poignant; most of these women will never see their family or friends again.
I liked the resolution of the mystery, and that the book ended on a note of hope for all the characters.
I had a copy of this book early through Netgalley