Family letters retained and passed down in a family, inspired this book set in Tauranga in the late 1800s. Author Lindsay Dawson has cleverly woven an interesting story around an idea in her great- grandfather’s correspondence and the resulting novel delves into early history of New Zealand, especially of the pioneering women and men who settled in this country.
It is January 1886 when Anna Hamilton wife of Bank Manager meets Violet Sutton who has recently arrived in Tauranga from London. She has a past, considered scandalous in Victorian times, which led to her marriage to an older man and her voyage to the other side of the world. She is able to confide in Anna and the pair enjoy a spirited friendship.
Violet’s liason with rival banker Rupert causes ripples in the town setting off a chain of events which have dire consequences for the strong, free-thinking woman.
I was half way through the book before I had an inkling of how the interesting title came about, but with his bright red hair it is an apt description for Rupert, while Violet describes herself as scarlet, “ not so much a school marm as a scarlet woman . We are a red pair you and I”
Over half of Scarlet & Magenta takes place in the first six months of the year in the Bay of Plenty town, with the author recording the tale like a diary, with each chapter dated. The inclusion of quotes at the beginning of each chapter is also an interesting touch. Dawson explains in notes at the rear of the book, “they are taken from newspapers and journals published in the era covered by the story.”
I found it an easy read which flowed along at a good pace. Life in early New Zealand was vastly different for women compared with today and Dawson has highlighted a number of these differences. The book combines interesting historical events, such as the Mount Tarawera eruption, with a touch of romance and mystery so will appeal to a wide number of readers.
Lindsey Dawson has written eight other books, but Scarlet and Magenta is her first historical novel .As well as writing her own stories she enjoys helping others write theirs, offering mentoring , workshops in person and online.
Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh
Scarlet & Magenta
by Lindsey Dawson
Published by Out Loud Press