Thursday, October 3, 2013
Local Customs by Audrey Thomas
4.0 out of 5 stars -- This fictional novel based on historical events (1830s) asks the question -- did Letitia Landon Maclean die of an unintentional or deliberate overdose of prussic acid, or was she murdered?
Be forewarned, the definitive answer is not here, but there are loads of clues and hints of what may have happened. The story of Letitia's background -- she's a relatively well-known poetess in London, and arrival in Gold Coast, Africa, with her new husband Governor George Maclean, is told in several different voices. Each character, including Letty herself, alludes to events and sinister goings on that might have led up to Letty's sudden death only 8 weeks after arriving.
It was quite common for foreigners to die quickly on Cape Coast, but Letty did not contract any of the usual suspect diseases such as dysentery, malaria or bites from poisonous snakes and insects. An empty medicine bottle of "cyanide" was found clutched in her hand -- but no one will admit to prescribing or mixing that formula for her.
This is an intriguing mystery set in a country that was completely unfamiliar to Europeans who had used the port as a loading point for the slave trade before abolition. The "local customs" required the ability of those who came there to adapt rapidly even as they tried to change the inhabitants' religion and culture to be "more British" and Christian. The history of Gold Coast Castle and the events that led up to Letty's death were interesting though the cause or reason for her actual demise is still speculative. Given that there was no autopsy and that burial occurred quite quickly, it's likely the questions will never be answered.
If you enjoy mystery and historical fiction that centers on a true story, you'll enjoy this novel.
Thank you to NetGalley and Dundurn for the ebook ARC to review.