Dangerous Women by Hope Adams

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First time author Hope Adams has a real winner in her debut historical fiction/mystery novel, Dangerous Women. This book is set in 1841 and follows the fates of 180 women who are being transported on the boat, Rajah, from jails in England to Van Diemen’s Land, which is present day Tasmania.

            The trip takes 15 weeks and is told through the eyes of 3 or 4 main characters, as they recount the trip, as well as a stabbing assault that takes place upon the boat during this crossing. The book begins with the assault and then chapters go back and forth (titled conveniently as Then or Now), telling tales on how and why some of the ladies got to be part of the prisoner transport, as well as trying to solve the stabbing before arriving at Hobart.

            What ties so much of this together is a sewing group that Matron Kezia Hayter establishes from Day One. The group is sewing a quilt that will be presented to the Governor of Van Diemen’s Land upon their arrival, and it is through this group of ladies that the stories unfold. None who are transported are supposed to have been convicted of murder, and yet one of these ladies has slipped through onto the Rajah. We can also sympathize with many of these convicts since their life situations placed them in a position that they had to commit criminal acts just to survive.

            In addition to the ladies, the book also follows Matron Hayter, the ship’s captain Charles Ferguson, along with the ships physician and priest. These male characters come to the fore during the investigation as to the stabbing, while the victim lies in a coma. Was the attacker one of the ladies of the sewing group, one of the other convicts, or could it have been one of the sailors?

            Throughout the book we get to view Matron Hayter as the rock that all these ladies rely upon, and we see the changes brought about due to the sewing circle and Hayter’s belief in forgiveness and compassion.

            But first and foremost this is a compelling mystery, all wrapped around a group of lady convicts who are headed to an unknown future in a land they know nothing about. How could someone get ahold of a knife, what drove that person to the attack, and how can such an incident be solved when every woman on the boat is a convict which can lead to many suspects and also many lies and denials of acts on board.

            History plays a main focus in this book, as the author has blended historical characters with a group of fictional ladies. There are dangerous women living in cramped quarters for 15 weeks. Nerves fray, alliances form, and love blooms in this fast paced, well written novel. This is a great page-turner that I finished in two days.

            Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a free Advance copy of this book in return for an honest review. This review was first posted at mysteryandsuspense.com

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