The Second Mrs. Hockaday
Author: Susan Rivers
Narrators:
Julie McKay and James Patrick Cronin
Published 2017 by Highbridge
7 hours – Unabridged

hb1141_secondhockaday_204Seventeen-year-old Placidia Fincher, daughter of the Valois plantation in South Carolina, had no immediate plans for marriage on that day in April 1863 that she came home to find a stranger negotiating the purchase of a mule from her father. Still less did she expect that within days she would be mothering a small child and running the estate of an absent Confederate officer, but as the new Mrs. Gryffth Hockaday, that is exactly where she ended up. For the widowed Major Hockaday of Holland Creek, it was perhaps equal parts attraction and expedience that drew him to the bewitching Placidia; with his first wife not long dead, he needed someone to raise his infant son and take charge of his household while he continued to wage war against the Union.

These events are already several years in the past as the novel begins. Right away, we learn that Placidia is in jail, awaiting trial, and it’s not long before we find out why. She gave birth to a child during the two years her husband was away, and is accused of murdering the infant within hours of its birth. The story unfolds through letters between Placidia and her cousin Mildred, and through transcripts of sworn testimony from various parties at the coroner’s inquest. Later in the novel, letters between other family members, interspersed with diary entries by Placidia during the time she was on her own as mistress of Holland Creek, gradually fill in the mysterious gaps in the tale.

It is a riveting tale, indeed. In authentic-sounding Southern accents, Julie McKay reads the entries expressing Placidia’s point of view (as well as those letters penned by her cousin Mildred), while James Patrick Cronin reads the coroner’s inquest documents, letters from Gryffth Hockaday, and later letters by male family members. All the different perspectives on life during and after wartime, and on the societal conventions of South Carolina throughout the period, commingle to paint a picture of a time and place in which is change is already under way before the people living through the change even realize what is happening and what it means. As the facts of the case come to light and fall into place, the listener begins to understand how changing the world can begin with facing up to the truth about your own family. Upheavals that start small in the home may ripple outward and alter the tide of history.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday is top-notch historical fiction that also packs a suspenseful punch. A layered story and thought-provoking story with a mystery to solve at the center, it is a relatively brief but highly satisfying listen that should appeal to listeners of many tastes.

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher as part of the Solid Gold Reviewer program administered by Audiobook Jukebox. No payment was received in return for a review. The receipt of the book had no influence on the opinions expressed in my review.

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