by Jill Darragh
Sitting down to relax and read The Case Of The Distant Relative by Jill Darragh was something I was looking forward to.
The cover, depicting a bloodied knife and a camellia, and the blurb on the back cover were omens of a ‘good read’ and I wasn't disappointed with how it moved along.
The story is set in Wellington a few months before New Zealand women were granted the vote (1893) and revolves around Sophia Holmes, an intelligent independent woman newly arrived in the colonies, ready to set up business and start a new life. Sophia, however, has a past, which is hinted at throughout and is finally made known at the critical time.
Interwoven into the story is the drama of the suffrage movement as it gains momentum throughout the country, and this weaves its way into the life of our heroine also.
Although it is a work of fiction there are many aspects of the story that make it believable. There is also plenty of drama, with murder, arson, intrigue, and romance to keep the book flowing, and it comes to a very satisfactory conclusion.
The book is 269 pages long, with an impressive bibliography that shows the author has done considerable research to present the facts pertaining to political facts and Wellington’s environs as they were at the time. However, I have questions about some of the information included.
The word ‘suffragette’ is used, and this term wasn’t coined till eleven years later when it was first used in relation to the British suffrage movement. The New Zealand fighters for the vote were not known by the term, which did not exist at that time.
Sophia talks of gaining suffrage as being a beginning to women being able to become anything they wished. Fair enough, though her thought of being a policewoman puts her more than fifty years ahead of the reality. And though there is mention of the new science of fingerprinting, this was still ten years away, as it did not come to New Zealand till 1903.
In a work of fiction there is room for interpretation, but such facts of history should be accurate. For anyone happy to ignore these points, The Case of the Distant Relative can still provide an entertaining read.
Publisher: Rangitawa Publishing
Trade hardback perfect bound, ISBN 978-0-473-22795-1
Available: Unity Books Wellington, Wheelers online books New Zealand, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and Rangitawa Publishing www.rangitawapublishing.com