Based on a true story, set in the Victorian Goldfields in the 1860's, THE UNFORTUNATE VICTIM is part fiction, part reminder that life in those days, particularly for women, was not easy, pleasant or fair. When the body of young newly-wed Maggie Stuart is found in the home she shares with her much older husband it's all to easy to forget that young is around 17 years old, older husband means arranged / quickly married off for reasons that become apparent, and with family is often the least safe place you can be.
The dreadful circumstances in which Maggie has grown up, married, and died are carefully laid in this novel, avoiding the more gruesome details without glossing over the reality too heavily. The town of Daylesford in those days was a wild, frontier like place full of blow-in's and more established locals, with some downright nasty goings on. When the body of young Maggie is discovered, local police aren't particularly short of dodgy characters to consider - from her violent and particularly nasty stepfather, through to the co-owner of the local brothel, to say nothing of the mysterious tramp hanging around the area.
Flagged as an "Otto Berliner investigates ..." novel you'd be forgiven for wondering how much investigating he plans to do when his first appearance is well into the story, and for a rather short time into the bargain. For all his initial absence (he returns eventually to save the day with the able assistance of a concerned local), he's a promising character. A police detective about to leave the force for private detecting mostly due to frustration with the questionable methods and ham-fisted behaviour of many colleagues, Berliner is a cerebral, almost Poirot styled character. Doing his initial detecting on the case of the suspect tried for the murder of Maggie Stuart by way of letters and newspaper reports, with a third party doing some local enquiring for him has a distinct Christie ring about it - although the brutality of the world that Berliner occupies is nowhere near the drawing room niceties of her more traditional settings.
The unusual styling of THE UNFORTUNATE VICTIM will undoubtedly throw some readers slightly. The idea that the hero of the day is very slow to arrive, and the sheer volume of the courtroom proceedings towards the centre of the book may be slightly off-putting. It's an unusual way to introduce a new character for whom, presumably there are plans for more stories, but if you stick with it you are given plenty of glimpses of who Otto Berliner is and where he's likely to be heading.