Thursday, September 9, 2021

Dangerous Women

Dangerous Women
  Dangerous Women
Author:  Hope Adams
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0593099575 / 978-0593099575

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I wish I didn't know, she thought."

Favorite Quote:  "That's what we, too, are like, us women. We're a patchwork. One person next to another, then her next to a third, and on and on, different people pushed together. Some neatly beside our neighbors, some out of shape and awkwardly sewn into a botched closeness. "

The history of this book is fascinating. The "dangerous women" are women incarcerated in England for crimes ranging from petty theft to prostitution to murder. In the 1800s, the British Ladies Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners founded by Elizabeth Fry, set out to offer prisoners tasks deemed useful to keep them busy during their incarceration. Needlework was one such tasks. As the law dictated, some women were taken from the prisoners and essentially deported to Van Diemen's Land, a British colony on Tasmania. The intent was to offer the women a fresh start.

One such transport included 180 female prisoners on a ship named the Rajah. Along with the women came sewing supplies. The project created by the end of the journey is the Rajah Quilt. It is supposed that the project was led by Kezia Hayter, who was a free woman in charge of the prisoners. The Rajah Quilt still exists and is housed in the National Gallery of Australia and can be viewed only once a year due to its fragility.

Within this history is the story of this book, which reads somewhat like an Agatha Christie mystery. In fact, it reminds me of Murder on the Orient Express in structure and flow but not ending. The Rajah is in the middle of the ocean. The cast of character is limited to those on board. A woman is stabbed. The list of suspects, by definition, is limited to those on board. Is it one of the sailors? Is it one of the women? Why? What are the stories behind each individual's actions.

The story goes back and forth between the investigation (current time) and the introduction of the women as they come aboard (the past). Each woman has a story and, perhaps, a secret she hides. Some of the stories intersect as do some secrets. In this way, the story is more about this mystery than the creation of the Rajah Quilt, but the history is still one I would not otherwise have learned.

The story itself and the characters themselves hold interest as well. Through each woman's story, the author paints a vivid picture of the conditions - the poverty and the desperation - that leads these women to the crimes they committed. It creates an understanding of the risk they took, more often than not for their families, particularly their children. It speaks to the fear of an unknown land and what awaits them. This is the other historical aspect of this book. Through fiction, it brings to life the emotion of the history.

The conclusion of the mystery, when it comes, is more tragic than suspenseful. It adds to the history of these women and the impact on mental health of the tragedies these women have faced.

The book, however, ends on a hopeful note, perhaps to mirror the intent of these transports - a new beginning in more ways than one.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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