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Review: Elsa Goody, Bushranger by Darry Fraser

on August 4, 2020

Elsa Goody, Bushranger
Darry Fraser
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2020, 409p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

1896 Robe, South Australia

When Elsa Goody’s father and brother George die in quick succession she and her sister Rosie are in trouble. Pursued by an unpleasant suitor with dubious motivation, Elsa leaves for Victoria on the hunt for a fortune in gold coins that her brother has hidden. If Elsa can find it she will be able to save Rosie and herself from married slavery.

Their quest leads them on a cross-country journey to find the last man who saw her brother alive, Ezekiel Jones. But Elsa is not the only one looking for buried treasure. She and Rosie are beset by bushrangers and in the confusion Elsa is accused of being an accomplice. Luckily not everyone believes that Elsa is a criminal. When she finally catches up with Ezekiel, it’s clear that for him she can do no wrong.

But with everyone chasing her and bloody violence on the horizon, life is becoming increasingly complicated. Will she and Rosie ever manage to solve the mystery, find the gold and free themselves from a dark future?

This is the first book I’ve read by Australian author Darry Fraser although I have seen a few in the past. Australian historical fiction is something I haven’t read a huge amount of (although I do read quite a bit of historical fiction) and this is set in the late 1800s, starting in Robe, South Australia. Elsa is the youngest in her family – her elder sister is married, her two oldest brothers are dead, her mother has also passed and her third older brother George went seeking adventure. They receive news from a kindly stranger that George has died in Casterton, down in the Western Districts of Victoria. The news seems too much for their ill father, who passes almost immediately after. That leaves Elsa and her sister, whom she has never been close to. Rosie’s husband Frank is a lazy and cruel man and Elsa knows she’ll be vulnerable to marriage with a man she very much doesn’t want if they do not have a way to establish themselves as independent. Elsa decides to travel to Casterton to search for a rumoured tin of gold sovereigns that her brother had – if he had with him in Victoria, they need to claim it as part of his belongings. And in leaving, Elsa can escape the man who wishes to marry her. She also wants to seek out Ezekiel Jones, the man who wrote to them of her brother’s death, feeling a connection to him through the letter that she cannot really explain.

I really enjoyed this – I felt like Elsa was a really strong character, easy to connect with. She has a lot of mental fortitude, having to deal with the death of her beloved brother, followed almost immediately by their father and also, her sister Rosie. Almost 15 years separates Rosie and Elsa and they’ve never been close. Rosie is at first, against the idea of travelling to Casterton, especially as they’ll be two women travelling a significant distance on their own. Rosie swings between combative and supportive, she’s often short tempered and resentful. She was married at sixteen and it seems she’s probably never been happy in her marriage and I think she possibly resented the fact that Elsa did not marry and had reached her mid-twenties without being forced into it. She seems to feel that Elsa was cosseted and spoiled as the baby of the family, although it seems that Elsa was working the family farm for a significant period of time, after George, who was never interested in the farm, left. Their father was not well enough to work it. It’s mostly Elsa that keeps them going on the journey, although things do take a turn when they are not far from their destination and they are inadvertently caught up in a bushranger hold up on a coach.

I enjoyed the way the story was told, split between Elsa and her situation in South Australia and also Ezekiel on his farm in Casterton, which gives the reader the chance to understand his situation, meet his family and become familiar with them before the two stories merge when Elsa and Ezekiel meet. Ezekiel is a man who has known grief – who still experiences it and he has a lot on his plate. He is raising children on his own, he’s concerned about both of his brothers, for different reasons. His brother Nebo is an interesting man, who at first glance, seems like he might not be the sort of man you want to know. But there’s more layers to him than that, even though he has done things in the past, and plans things in the future, that are not really ideal. And Judah, the other brother, is even more grief-stricken than Ezekiel has been, taken to wandering on his own, leaving his property almost abandoned. But he’s back now and perhaps the brothers can finally work together.

Ezekiel and Elsa do have a connection right away – for Elsa, she was drawn to him from the writing of the letter, but for Ezekiel, it begins when she arrives on his property. I really liked all of their interactions and the way in which she immediately connects with his children as well, who are vulnerable in different ways. It’s obvious that all of them have felt the strain of losing their mother, but in particular, I feel the youngest two definitely showed more of that loss. Ezekiel was doing the absolute best he could and it was obvious how much he loved them and wanted the best for him. I enjoyed all the brothers in the end (even Nebo) and the ways in which they let people into their lives.

I enjoyed this glimpse into rural Australia in the late 1800s. Fraser wove women’s suffrage into the story with South Australia allowing the female vote, which Elsa is determined to do. I’d definitely be interested in reading future novels and might explore her backlist as well.

7/10

Book #142 of 2020

This is book #47 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge of 2020


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