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In a luminous and sensitive debut, Stacia M. Brown brings to life a love affair, a mystery and a murder trial, all set against the turbulent backdrop of Oliver Cromwell's England. It's 1649, and the realm is under Puritan law. When glove-maker Rachel Lockyer's employer spies Rachel burying a dead newborn, she assumes the worst and reports Rachel to the authorities.
Accused of infanticide in a legal system where the burden of proof rests on the defendant, Rachel's silence before investigator Thomas Bartwain only worsens her situation. While Bartwain cannot tell if Rachel is unwilling or unable to tell her story, the lack of evidence in her favor prevents him from releasing her. Rachel's public trial will draw in the people around her with cyclonic force, causing them to question the law and their own morals. Meanwhile, Rachel's history slowly unfolds through flashbacks to her love affair with married political activist William Walwyn, juxtaposing the stolen happiness of her affair with the inhumane conditions in the women's ward at Newgate Prison.
Brown deftly evokes the double standards inherent in the infant-murder laws and the enormous difficulty faced by any woman accused of that crime, allowing her characters to struggle with these issues, never resorting to preaching to make the point. While the dialogue occasionally feels too modern, Brown's spare, lyrical style delights, and the story's elements are nothing if not authentic.
With cross-genre appeal to fiction and mystery lovers alike, Accidents of Providence will leave readers moved and deeply aware of our society's progress in women's rights.
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