My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Seventeenth century London. Apprentice Rachel Lockyer has been arrested for the murder of her newborn child, reported by her own mistress, the glovemaker Mary du Gard, who saw her burying the baby in the woods. Thomas Bartwain, criminal investigator for the city, reviews the evidence in the case, which he calls “open and shut”, but he can’t shake the strong sense of unease that dogs him when he submits it for indictment. Rachel will not speak in her own defense, refusing to admit she was pregnant, to identify the father, and to state whether the infant was live or still born. Charles I has recently been executed, and the state of the law has becoming as unstable as the new government that replaced the king’s.
Stacia M. Brown has, remarkably, produced a first novel every bit as compelling as The Scarlet Letter. At heart, Accidents of Providence is a love story, one of illicit, irresistible, unshakable love. But equally central are the questions of morality, sexual equality, fidelity, friendship, and ethical courage that plague Rachel and her lover, Mary du Gard, Bartwain, and all the other people involved in each of their lives. To read Rachel’s story is to live, vicariously, in interregnum London, the story’s vividly evoked background. It is to ponder the moral questions that dog each of the characters. It is to feel the horror of a public execution. Rachel is a strong woman who has the strength to die for what she believes, while those around her equivocate. Accidents of Providence is a highly literate, unforgettable piece of outstanding historical fiction.