The second novel in the Monsarrat series, THE UNMOURNED is set in Sydney, based around the Parramatta Female Factory - the epitome of appalling institutions in a line up that you'd think would be hard to lead.
The investigator in this series is ticket-of-leave recipient, gentleman convict, Hugh Monsarrat who has come from Port Macquarie to Parramatta in Sydney with his every-loyal housekeeper Mrs Mulrooney. Having, as yet, not had the pleasure of reading the first book in the series THE SOLDIER'S CURSE or now the third, THE POWER GAME, this is something that I really need to rectify (I realise that's starting to become my never-ending mantra), but this combination of history with a touch of mystery, great characters, good settings, and interesting storylines is worth pursuing.
On the slightly mannered side of historical tellings, this second novel plays very fair with new readers, giving you more than enough background on Monsarrat and Mulrooney to be able to sort out the relationship, and a fair bit of their pasts without having to work too hard, whilst keeping the focus on the current storyline. The Parramatta Female Factory is one of those areas of Australian history that this reader knew a bit about, but obviously nowhere near enough, and the historical details behind the factory, it's purpose, and the way it was used and abused were informative. It's told in great style with verve and a real sense of being able to be part of it - instead of reading a somewhat dull, accurate and passionless historical account.
The murder of the superintendent Robert Church, is intriguing, but in many ways it's the history in this novel that matters a tad more than the mystery. When delivered as well as THE UNMOURNED does it, it's of no matter that the mystery is somewhat easy to resolve pretty early on. There's still plenty of intrigue in the lives of Monsarrat, Mulrooney and everybody associated with the Parramatta Female Factory to keep the interest of readers, to say nothing of how excellent it is to have novels that finally cast some light into one of the very dark corners of early white society institutions.