Category: Historical Fiction, Murder Mystery, Book Review
The Rajah sails for Australia.
On board are 180 women convicted of petty crimes.
Daughters, sisters, mothers – they’ll never see home or family again. Despised and damned, they have only one another.
Until the murder.
As the fearful hunt for a killer begins, everyone on board is a suspect . . .
Based on the very real 1841 voyage of the convict ship Rajah and including several historical characters, Dangerous Women is the story of a group of women, convicted mostly of petty crimes, being transported to Tasmania, then known as Van Diemen’s Land. The chapters alternate between ‘then’ and ‘now’ giving insights into the women’s individual situations, how and why they found themselves being deported. Many had been forced into petty thievery by controlling husbands or fathers. Others stole just in order to survive.
A long sea voyage stretches ahead, and as the ship leaves land behind a young mother is fatally stabbed. All the women come under suspicion, along with the ship’s company, and one had a secret she would keep at all costs. The investigation into the stabbing is conducted by Captain Ferguson, the minister, ship’s surgeon and Kezia. Everyone is on edge with the thought of a murderer aboard, especially as none of the women were convicted of that particular crime and, of course, there’s nowhere to run.
The women began to form tentative friendships, several brought closer together as they joined the sewing group organised by Kezia Hayter, one of a group promoting the reformation of female prisoners, who has volunteered to look after the women during the voyage. Armed with a bag full of donated scraps of material Kezia persuades a number of the women to help with the creation of a quilt, with the hope of giving the women a sense of purpose and pride in their work. The end result would be gifted to the governors when they arrived at their destination.
Dangerous Women is a wonderfully fascinating representation of an historical event I knew nothing about. The punishment and treatment the women suffered for the crimes they committed was very harsh, tearing them away from families and everything familiar to send them halfway across the world, into the unknown.
The dialogue is realistic, in keeping with the characters and their situations, and the interaction between the women is just what you would expect, with squabbles and frayed tempers, as well as humorous moments. Chapters from several viewpoints work well and help to flesh out the characters.
Hope Adams has produced an impressive, extremely well written and researched debut, compelling not only because of the truth of the story but also the vivid imagery of the setting.
The Rajah Quilt is now on display in the National Gallery of Australia and the author states she has changed the names of certain convicts because descendants of the real women still live in Australia.
Hope Adams was born in Jerusalem and spent her early childhood in many different countries, such as Nigeria and British North Borneo. She went to Roedean School in Brighton, and from there to St Hilda’s College, Oxford.
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