'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Review: Midnight Burial

Miss Florence Adelaide Williamson has had the most terrible day. Her big sister, Lizzie, has died of fever. It was so sudden, within hours, the household are in pure shock.

Papa and some men have buried her on the property. No time for a funeral. Her clothes are burned. The house plummets into mourning.

How could Lizzie have died so quickly? Lizzie's best friend Miss Susannah Jones is suspicious. Lizzie and her Papa had a huge row earlier that day. Lizzie told her everything, so Susannah just knew he would kill her. He said that he would.

When young Florence manages to oust her overbearing governess, Susannah joins the Williamson household as a temporary nanny for the young girl. Can Susannah discover what really happened to her friend?

Told in the form of diary entries and letters, this wonderful book had me captivated from start to (potentially gruesome) end. Florence is one of the most funny and plucky characters I've met in a long time--and her breathless antics, even while grieving for her sister, are glorious fun.

The Williamson family and the mystery that unfolds around them is evocative and rich with visual detail--we can see and feel the family's homestead, the shearing sheds, the fields, the town, the horses, even the swish of the women's skirts as they bustle by, desperate to both solve a terrible crime and solve a confounding mystery. Scenes quickly propel the reader back to Australia's colonial times of the mid to late 1800s.

Pauline Deeves writes with a beautiful flow and refinement. The language she uses to define each character is deftly chosen and elegantly-written, yet a hint of humour and rawness is equally evident.

A clever plotline and glorious twist will have kids (and adults!) talking about this book, and recommending it to others, as I have already done.

A work of fiction, the story was concocted after the author read Within Living Memory, a collection of stories which she found in the National Library archives. These stories were told by the people who lived at Lanyon, an old sheep station south of Canberra. When Pauline read of the quick, nighttime burial of a 20-year-old girl with typhoid, she was inspired to create the story of Lizzie and her family.

Historical notes on her fascinating historical finds are at the back of the book, and Pauline has even used old photographs of people from the NLA collection, to bring visual character to Florence, her family, and the fabulous cast of players.

Title: Midnight Burial
Author: Pauline Deeves
Publisher: National Library Publishing, $14.99 RRP
Publication Date: 1 April 2014
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780642278500
For ages: 8 - 14
Type: Fiction, Historical Fiction