From the award-winning and bestselling author of Into the Darkest Corner comes a delicious Victorian crime novel based on a true story that shocked and fascinated the nation.
On 7th November 1843, Harriet Monckton, 23 years old and a woman of respectable parentage and religious habits, is found murdered in the privy behind the chapel she regularly attended in Bromley, Kent.
The community is appalled by her death, apparently as a result of swallowing a fatal dose of prussic acid, and even more so when the surgeon reports that Harriet was around six months pregnant.
Drawing on the coroner’s reports and witness testimonies, Elizabeth Haynes builds a compelling picture of Harriet’s final hours through the eyes of those closest to her and the last people to see her alive. Her fellow teacher and companion, her would-be fiancé, her seducer, her former lover—all are suspects; each has a reason to want her dead.
Brimming with lust, mistrust and guilt, The Murder of Harriet Monckton is a masterclass of suspense from one of our greatest crime writers.
I love Victorian mysteries and have read a few over the years. I have also read and enjoyed a couple of books by Elizabeth Haynes, including the brilliant 'Into the Darkest Corner', so when I found out that her newest book was about a true crime story that took place in the 19th century, I didn't think twice to download and read it. The atmospheric, creepy cover was enough to draw me in.
Harriet Monckton, a young woman in her twenties, was murdered on the 6th of November 1843 in Bromley. Unfortunately, her murder was never solved. But the author, discovering this case and feeling 'a desperate sense of injustice' for Harriet, decided to tell us her story. Using dated English words and phrases and vivid descriptions of Bromley at the time, the author succeeded in taking me back in time to an era when women didn't have much say, where prominent men were looked at as faultless and when religion played a central role in everyone's life.
In the chilling prologue, the author sets the scene of the murder. We know that someone offers Harriet 'a solution to her problem' which she naively accepts, to only recognise the deception when it was too late. Who was this killer? Why did they do this to Harriet? What had Harriet done for this person to detest her so much? Or were they trying to cover their own wrongdoing by silencing Harriet?
I had the impression that this would be a police investigation, that the author would give us the sequence of events from the perspective of a detective or a constable, however as I began to read, I realised that the story is recounted from the point of view of the few people that were closest to Harriet Monckton. Real-life characters that lived in Bromley alongside her. Those that loved her, used her and abused her. Was it one of these who ended Harriet's life? A large chunk of the book is dedicated to the first and second inquests as the many possible witnesses were conveyed in front of the jury. I thought that this part was a little bit dragging as many witnesses had to be recalled a second time to tell their account. The later part of the book is then dedicated to Harriet's diary in which she pours out her heart, feelings and thoughts about the persons closest to her and on her predicament.
To say I 'enjoyed' reading this book would not be the correct term to use in this case, as the book is quite dark with the sad story of a murdered girl, but I was very much intrigued to see how the author would develop the story and if she would 'solve' Harriet's murder, and yes, by the end she gives us a very plausible, possible solution. Sadly, however, we may never know if she's right or wrong.
I had never heard of this case before, and I'm now so thankful to Elizabeth Haynes for writing this book. I'm not sure how much of it is true or fiction, but the author has done a lot of research, read the original coroner reports and stuck to the true facts as much as possible. Knowing that this girl was murdered in this horrific way and her body discarded like a sack of rubbish, and with no justice ever being served, had a deep impact on me. I experienced mixed feelings towards Harriet. Obviously I felt sorry for her, furious that someone stole her life so prematurely, but I also felt somewhat angry at her and frustrated, for being so naive and gullible and for letting certain people take control of her life. Mind you, I know, this was the 19th century and poor girls didn't have much say, especially when faced with certain prominent citizens. One particular character shocked and disgusted me and I hated them with a passion.
Like the author, I felt profoundly touched by this girl's sad short life and I now know that Harriet Monckton will stay with me for a very long time. I'm just sorry that the killer was never apprehended. I only wish that Harriet rests in peace knowing that Elizabeth Haynes has given her voice and made her story known.
Well done to the author. If you love Victorian mysteries based on true stories, you won't want to miss this book.
Elizabeth Haynes worked for many years as a police analyst. Her debut novel, Into the Darkest Corner, won Amazon's Book of the Year in 2011 and Amazon's Rising Star Award for debut novels.
Elizabeth grew up in Sussex and studied English, German and Art History at Leicester University. She is currently taking a career break having worked for the past seven years as a police intelligence analyst. Elizabeth now lives in Kent with her husband and son, and writes in coffee shops and a shed-office which takes up most of the garden. She is a regular participant in, and a Municipal Liaison for, National Novel Writing Month - an annual challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November.