Books & Literature

Book Review: The Milliner of Bendigo, by Darry Fraser

HISTORICAL FICTION: Trouble with the law, a missing sister, and a growing attachment to the wrong man – Evie Emerson has a dangerous path ahead of her… an exciting and twisty historical mystery and adventure from a bestselling Australian author.

Feature image credit: HarperCollins Australia

The Milliner of Bendigo is Darry Fraser’s ninth novel. All are set in the 1800s, giving the reader insight into the life of the early settlers to Australia, but especially that of women. Most are set around the Murray River, which was the main form of transport in central Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia. River boats carried people and goods up and down the river system in the seasons when the river was flowing. Life was hard for these early pioneers, and with her impeccable research, Fraser has managed to bring this time in Australia’s history to life.

The Milliner of Bendigo is the story of Evie Emerson, a maker of beautiful hats who lives in the country town of Bendigo. She is 30 years old, as yet unmarried, and just about to have her stunning hats exhibited in the window of a major store in the town. Evie has not heard from her sister Meryl in a long time and needs to speak to her regarding their mother’s will. She decides to travel to Cobram on the River Murray to see her. To make matters worse, Evie is having her good name pulled through the mud by a man she has refused to marry. 

Fitzmorgan O’Shea and Raff Dolan are two of her oldest friends. O’Shea is a roving reporter who is trying to get to the bottom of police corruption in the district and Dolan is a wheelwright who has always been in love with Evie, but is convinced her and Fitz will one day tie the knot.

Fraser is a master at creating stunning imagery for the reader to enjoy. We are transported back in time to when life was hard. Horseback, carts, and river boats are the mode of transport. People are carving out their place in this new land. It is easy to imagine the towering gums on the river bank, the tin and wood dwellings people called their homes, and the dust constantly enveloping everything.

You don’t have to be a lover of historical fiction to enjoy The Milliner of Bendigo. Well written, full of intrigue, gossip, heartache and some violence, it never stops being exciting. It is very hard to put down!

Touching on modern themes, it highlights strong independent women at a time when men were all-powerful. It gives the reader an insight into things that were taboo in early Australian life such as homosexuality, women’s rights, and domestic violence. The Milliner of Bendigo is just a darn good yarn and will stay with you long after you have turned the final page.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: HarperCollins Australia
Released: November 2023
RRP: $32.99

A sweeping tale that will carry you back to Australia in the 1800s. Full of danger, love, and fashion!

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