Midnight Fires: A Mystery with Mary Wollstonecraft
by Nancy Means Wright
Edited by Meredith Phillips
Cover Artist: Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie, 1797.
Review by Gayle Surrette
Perseverance Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781564744883
Date: 10 April 2010 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Nancy Means Wright has written a taunt historical mystery that pulls the reader in from the first chapter with the accidental death or murder of a sailor aboard the ship taking Mary Wollstonecraft to her new position as governess to the three daughters of Lord Robert Kingsborough and his wife, Lady Caroline. When she arrives, there is an air of mystery and intrigue that matches the brooding air of the castle. Soon Mary is involved in helping to identify a murderer before an innocent man is hanged.
First, to end confusion before it starts, the Mary Wollstonecraft of the subtitle is not the author of Frankenstein, but her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Wollstonecraft was an outspoken proponent of education for women. When her mother died she had to take a position as a governess to pay off debts and help support her sisters who'd failed as teachers.
Wollstonecraft considered being a governess in a manner similar to Jane Fairfax in Emma; not slavery or servitude but not a situation that allows much latitude in what you say or do. Arriving at the Kingsborough residence, Mary finds all the children running wild; their care left to the servants. Her three charges are insolent and full of themselves and not inclined to be taught. Their mother barely acknowledges the children's existence and their father lives to hunt and dally with the servants, which Mary soon learns included the previous governess. She has to stay for one year but she refuses to be used by anyone.
Not long after her arrival she begins to meet some of the people who work at or around the castle. She interested in finding the friend of the sailor who died to deliver his letter. This quest is leads Wollstonecraft to learning more about the Irish freedom fighters and their goals as well as Lord Kingsborough's opposition to such feelings among his tenants. With the death of a friend of the Kingsborough family, Wollstonecraft is pulled into an investigation to find the real killer rather than the one that the aristocrats would like it to be.
Wollstonecraft feels she needs to get involved and yet she hasn't a clue where to begin and is unfamiliar with the people, the politics, and the land around the castle. In other words, she's the perfect point of view characters as she doesn't know any more than the reader about what's going on and what the connections are between the various people.
The clues, some of which the reader is bound to notice before the main character, slowly build the tension. This is a time when the life of a servant wasn't worth much and interfering with a Lord's will could be extremely dangerous. Wollstonecraft must find a way to achieve true justice and yet not be dismissed or killed herself.
The atmosphere and characters sound true to the times. This is a gritty and fairly accurate portrayal of how people lived at the time. The author plays fair with the reader and, while there is justice, it can be argued that it is surely a solution that can be discussed and argued about among readers in months to come, or longer.
The first of a possible series, I will definitely be interested in seeing what Mary Wollstonecraft gets up to next.