Maitland 1913 Miss Elizabeth Quinn is something of an institution in Maitland Town. For longer than anyone could remember she and her brother, businessman Michael, have lived in the impressive two-storey stone house next to the church. When she is discovered cowering in the corner of the exhibition gallery at the Technical College the entire town knows something strange has come to pass.
Was it the prehistoric remains or perhaps the taxidermy exhibition that had reduced the whale-boned encased pillar of society to a quivering mess? Or is there something odd about a striking painting on loan from the National Gallery?
Mathematical savant Jane Piper is determined to find out. Deposited on the doorstep of the local orphanage as a baby, she owes her life and education to the Quinn’s philanthropic ventures. Jane had been in the orphanage for years before the siblings recognised her genius and took her to live with them while she went to school. Now Jane feels a responsibility to find out what’s going on with Elizabeth.
As the past and the present converge, Elizabeth’s grip on reality loosens. Can Jane, with her logical brain and penchant for puzzles, unravel Elizabeth’s story before it is too late?
The novel is told through different narrators over two timelines, fifty years apart and in both Australia and in England. We witness brother and sister Michael and Elizabeth Quinn’s journey to Australia in the late 1800s, to join their parents. When their parents don’t meet them as expected, Michael leaves Elizabeth in the care of a woman they met on the ship. Did something happen to Elizabeth in Mrs Cameron’s care? Or did something happen before then? And will Jane be able to work it out.
Without giving anything away, this is a fantastic historical mystery, cleverly told around a number of unrelated historical events. Tea Cooper has a reputation for writing strong, complex female characters and here is no different. Jane is especially fascinating.
Ranging from the gritty reality of the Australian goldfields to the grand institutions of Sydney, the bucolic English countryside to the charm of Maitland Town, this compelling historical mystery, with an eccentric and original heroine, is rich with atmosphere and detail.
I found it difficult to put this book down and had just-one-more-chapter-itis well into the early hours. Truly one of my favourite reads of the year. I’m now off to immerse myself in Tea Cooper’s backlist over the holidays. Don’t miss this one!
About the author:
Tea Cooper is an established Australian author of contemporary and historical fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling. She is the bestselling author of several novels, including The Horse Thief, The Cedar Cutter, The Currency Lass, The Naturalist’s Daughter and The Woman in the Green Dress.
To find out more, visit Tea on her website.