All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Last Truehart by Darry Fraser

on February 24, 2021

The Last Truehart 
Darry Fraser
Harlequin AUS
2020, 406p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A woman alone and a charismatic private detective are caught up in a dangerous quest to discover her true identity in this thrilling historical adventure romance set in 19th century Victoria, from a bestselling Australian author.

1898, Geelong, Victoria. Stella Truehart is all alone in the world. Her good-for-nothing husband has died violently at the hands of an unknown assailant. Her mother is dead, her father deserted them before she was born, and now her kindly Truehart grandparents are also in their graves.

Private detective Bendigo Barrett has been tasked with finding Stella. He believes his client’s intentions are good, but it is evident that someone with darker motives is also seeking her. For her own part Stella is fiercely independent, but as danger mounts she agrees to work with Bendigo and before long they travel together to Sydney to meet his mysterious client where they discover more questions than answers.

What role do a stolen precious jewel and a long-ago US Civil War ship play in Stella’s story? Will sudden bloodshed prevent the resolution of the mystery and stand in the way of her feelings for Bendigo? It is time, at last, for the truth to be revealed…

I read my first Darry Fraser book last year and I really enjoyed it so I was quite pleased when this one turned up. I don’t read enough Australian historical fiction and given I’m taking part in a historical fiction reading challenge this year, it’s always good to have plenty of choices for it, including some local options that help with variety.

Stella Truehart is the last in her family. Her mother Alice died a few years ago, she never knew her father and her beloved grandparents are gone as well. She’s also a widow, having married a man that was at first charming, but then brutal and many locals eye her with suspicion, convinced she was in on his thievery. The local police seem to be skeptical of her as well, making her reluctant to report a few things that she feels are….unusual.

I really enjoyed this. I liked Stella’s independent, strong-willed character and her feisty sister friends were a lot of fun as well. The beginning of the book, which is about Alice, was a great set up for a story and was about something that I didn’t know had happened – a U.S. Civil War ship named Shenandoah, which was docked briefly in Melbourne. When she left, around 42 Australian men were on board. It was such a fascinating situation, very complicated politically at the time and the ship has a profound effect on Alice’s life.

I also really liked the character of the interestingly-named Bendigo Bennett, his profession, his family and also his ‘secret’ as well. His way of investigation was quite low key, he’s very aware of his approaching Stella and he knows there’s quite a bit more to the story than his client has made him aware of. He and Stella end up teaming up for more information, including travelling to Sydney, when both are accosted by what is probably the same assailant. Someone out there believes that Stella possesses something valuable and it seems like there’s nothing they won’t stop at to get it for themselves.

In both the previous Darry Fraser book that I read and this one, there’s a strong theme of women’s rights and fighting for the vote and independence to live their lives freely, without having to be beholden to men. It’s always interesting to me, to read about how some of the freedoms I enjoy today, were fought for in the past, by those who spent large portions of their lives never enjoying those things. Bendigo’s sisters and Stella provide plenty in the way of stimulating political discussion, early feminism and choices such as women keeping their maiden names after marriage and I loved those inclusions into the story.

This book felt like it was a very well rounded story, but one that also had a little bit of everything: mystery, intrigue, romance, history, politics, perhaps even the chance for one of the other characters to get their own story in the future. I used to live near Geelong and used to visit there every week so it was fun to visit in history and learn a little of late 19th century life there. The suspense was well executed as well, even though the reader is always more aware than both Bendigo Bennett and Stella, there were still a few surprises.

This was such an engrossing read, I was engaged from the first page and it continued on – think I ended up reading in one sitting and barely put it down at all! I really do need to make an effort to pick up Darry Fraser’s backlist, the books I haven’t yet read from her because the two that I have read have been meticulous in their portrayal of Australian history and excellent in creating engaging, realistic characters where you care about their outcome in the story.

8/10

Book #27 of 2021

The Last Trueheart is the 12th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

It also counts for my participation in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2021. It’s the 6th book read for this one.


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