22 August 2023

Review: The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes

The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes book cover

This Victorian historical crime novel is based on the true story of young Harriet Monckton, who was murdered in Kent in 1843. Harriet was 23 years old and was found poisoned in the privy behind the chapel she regularly attended in Bromley, Kent. Sadly, Harriet's murder remains unsolved, however Elizabeth Haynes has attempted to show us who Harriet was, why she may have come to harm and who might have been responsible for her untimely death.

Elizabeth Haynes is better known for writing psychological thrillers, and you might recall my reviews of Into the Darkest Corner (5 stars) and Human Remains (4 stars). With many more crime novels under her belt, writing historical fiction is a first, and I think she nailed it! Drawing on historical records and archives, including the content of two inquests, coroner's report and witness testimonies, The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes is a convincing historical fiction novel by an author who has clearly done their Victorian era research.

The novel is presented in alternate chapters from several character points of view, and it took me a number of chapters to adjust to the regular shift in narration as a relatively large cast of characters began cycling through. One of the characters appeared guilty from the get go, but some of them aren't telling the truth:
"Trouble is, the truth is plain and easy to remember. Lies, though, that's different. You lie once, you have to remember the lie, the truth doesn't fade when time passes, but a lie does." Page 242
Harriet seems charismatic and is loved by many and envied by some, with characters seeing different sides to her personality:
"I felt my heart twist a little, at that. It reminded me of something Harriet had said to me once. That she should not meet anyone she loved as well as me. But that was the old Harriet, of course. The good, kind Harriet. Not the hypocrite, the harlot, the betrayer." Page 301
In the novel, we learn Harriet was pregnant, despite being single and unwed. Identifying the father of the child is a mystery just as compelling as the guilty party behind her murder. Are they one and the same?
"If I am spared, of course. It is at this time of night that I feel the most afraid; it feels that death and damnation lurk all around us, in the darkness, waiting to claim us. In the morning I shall feel foolish for these thoughts, of course, but now it seems that nothing good lies ahead for me." Page 405
Coming in at just over 500 pages, it was a little long, and Harriet's chapters did start to become a little tiresome as she fretted about her situation. A suspect is revealed by the end of the book, although of course we have no way of knowing if this is truly what happened.

If you'd like to give The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes a try, you can read a free excerpt of the first 21 pages on the publisher's website here. You might also like to check out my 2014 interview with the author.

The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes is a slow burn, historical whodunnit based on a true story. Recommended!

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. It is always interesting to see how an author goes when they choose to change genres!

    Thanks for sharing your review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge!

    1. You're welcome Marg, it's always nice to share an older title and something a little different.


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