Review: Carolyn Morwood – Death and the Spanish Lady

Given that I am only attempting the ‘Miles’ level of the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge which requires me to read six books written by Australian women in 2012 I might need to slow down a little. However, over New Year suffering with a cold how could I resist reading about the Spanish Flu that spread across the world in 1919 in the aftermath of the Great War? This is the second book (after Chris Womersley’s Bereft) that I’ve read that has as a background the experience of Australian soldiers returning from the war on another continent and the accompanying frenzy over the infection they may have brought with them. Here in Britain we have a fair amount of fiction set in the period but I was woefully unaware of the Australian experience until now.

The book has Eleanor Jones as its central character, a nurse who has experienced first hand the horrors of combat injuries and has returned to Melbourne to nurse the returning soldiers who are infected with the ‘Spanish Lady’ as the illness in known. Morwood has obviously done considerable research about the methods that were taken to stop the infection spreading and I thought these descriptions wonderful. Sitting by open windows, spacing seats further apart around a dinner table and wearing masks around the city seem a little inadequate by modern standards but show how fear of an epidemic infused everyday life. The mass hospitals that sprung up must have been a terrible place to work in, but of course an ideal setting for a murder.

The murder by arsenical poisoning of Brian Reddy a soldier with a cruel reputation both before and during war provides Eleanor with a means of distraction away from her haunted past. There are a number of people who may have had contact with Reddy in a previous context and as Eleanor investigates the murder, a few wrong turns are made until the culprit identified.

I liked the book a lot. It was well written and full of period detail. I would have preferred the investigation into the murder to have been a bit more complex as I guessed the culprit early on in the book which is unusual for me these days. There are multiple points of view in the narrative which was extremely confusing to begin with but as I settled down into the book grew to like. An excellent start to the 2012 AWW challenge. Maybe I need to move myself up a level if I carry on at this pace.

Many thanks to Bernadette at Reactions to Reading for sending me her copy of this book. Her review can be found here at Fair Dinkum.

18 thoughts on “Review: Carolyn Morwood – Death and the Spanish Lady

  1. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – I’ve wanted to read this since I read Bernadette’s review, too! So glad you liked it. This topic interests me quite a lot, but then, I like historical fiction. Thanks for reminding me that I must read this one.


  2. I’d like to read this book, especially now in light of your review. I read Bernadette’s review a while back but when I went to look on Amazon I see there is at least one earlier book by this author. Presumably you read this one without having read the earlier book(s) – which is good as I don’t want to have to read a backlist first! So might well give this a try. I also noted your approval of Bereft but on looking at it on Amazon I thought it looked a bit depressing, I seem to have read so much on that topic that I am not sure if I can cope with more. The Spanish flu one seems a different sort of angle.


    1. I have read Bereft for crimesquad Maxine and am doing the review this week. I thought it wonderful – a five stars but I think that reviews have been mixed. I didn’t think it depressing but I do think the subject matter can only be approached in small doses. Do you want me to send the Carolyn Morwood to you – it came all the way from OZ so it travels well!


  3. Hi Sarah, glad you reviewed this book as this has piqued my interest. I’m woefully ignorant of Australian writers generally, so it’s good to get pointers. Must add this to my ‘to read’ list.


    1. Yes I was the same too Anwen but I do think that there is some good stuff out there. I am going to get a collection of books together that I think you would like for when I see you next. I’m going to wean you off your classic crime exclusivity…..


  4. Glad you liked it and from memory I picked the culprit but not their reason…or maybe that was a different book all together. At one of our sites (I work for the Health department) there is a nursing museum and the 1919 flu epidemic features heavily so it was interesting to read about the experiences of nurses in that time

    Oh and Maxine this is the first book of this series, Morwood’s other books are not related to this one


  5. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

    I probably would have skipped over this title based on the title but I am intrigued by your review.
    Thank you for sharing it!

    Shelleyrae @ Book’d oUt


  6. Pingback: The best of January’s reading. « crimepieces

  7. Pingback: Review: Chris Womersley – Bereft « crimepieces

  8. I read Bereft earlier this year, and it was the first time I’d heard about Australia’s experience with the Spanish flu, too. I’m going to put this one on my TRL


  9. Pingback: Australian Women Writers Challenge

  10. Pingback: 2012 AWW Challenge Wrap-up: Crime, Mystery, Thriller and Suspense « Australian Women Writers Challenge

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