Wednesday, September 28, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers has been on my Netgalley queue for months. It isn’t due out until January 2017, but seeing as it’s an epistolary novel, an art form I admire, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer.

The title character is Placidia Fincher, daughter of a respected Southern gentleman farmer, who is rather abruptly wed to Major Gryffth Hockaday. Hockaday is an officer in the Confederate army who has recently lost his wife and has an infant son at home. Placidia is a seventeen-year-old beauty, immediately captivated by the Major. He’s on leave at the time of their meeting. They have only one full day and two nights together as husband and wife before he is commanded back to the field.

Placidia is left in charge of a farm that is on the verge of failing. There are a few "servants" still in place, and Placidia is uncomfortable as mistress of a household where she is a stranger. She has to learn how to manage the farm, take care of a baby, and protect the property and its inhabitants from roving bands of raiders. She has to do this alone.

It’s years before Placidia is reunited with her husband, during which time tragedy and scandal descend upon her with such ferocity, it’s unclear if their love can withstand it. (They had known each other less than a week. Had they known each other at all?)

The story opens with letters from Placidia to a sympathetic cousin. Placidia is under arrest at the request of her husband for crimes committed while he was away.

The narrative unfolds slowly through guarded letters from Placidia, through the scant love letters that reached their destination during the war, and from concerned letters of family members. The time frame abruptly shifts to letters of descendants sorting through what might have happened, aided to full understanding at last by the revelations in Placidia’s diary. Although the narrative is somewhat choppy because of this format, it helps to keep crucial details hidden and add an element of suspense. One might guess the true culprit, but there’s enough doubt to keep the reader turning pages. Placidia’s strength in the face of her struggles make her a worthy heroine.

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