Publication Date: 14th February 2012
Book Source: Houghten Mifflin Harcourt & NetGalley
Synopsis: Rachel Lockyer is under investigation for murder.
It is 1649. King Charles has been beheaded for treason. Amid civil war, Cromwell's army is running the country. The Levellers, a small faction of political agitators, are calling for rights to the people. And a new law targeting unwed mothers and “lewd women” presumes anyone who conceals the death of her illegitimate child is guilty of murder.
Rachel Lockyer, unmarried glove maker, and William Walwyn, Leveller hero, are locked in a secret affair. But while William is imprisoned in the Tower, a child is found buried in the woods and Rachel is arrested.
So comes an investigation, public trial, and a cast of extraordinary characters made up of ordinary Londoners: gouty investigator Thomas Bartwain, fiery Elizabeth Lilburne and her revolution-chasing husband, Huguenot glover Mary Du Gard, a lawyer for the prosecution hell-bent on making an example of Rachel, and others. Spinning within are Rachel and William, their remarkable love story, and the miracles that come to even the commonest lives.
I enjoyed the historical backdrop to Accidents of Providence, 17th century Commonwealth England under the strict control of Puritan Oliver Cromwell following the execution of Charles I. There was much detail regarding the political and religious unrest of the time, the role of political agitators, the Levellers, and the shocking social plight of women, The story evolves from the draconian 1624 "Act to Prevent the Destroying and Murdering of Bastard Children."
After an extended, passionate affair glovemaker Rachel Lockyer finds herself pregnant to lover William Walwyn, married father of 14. A tragedy ensues and criminal investigator Thomas Bartwain is brought in. What follows is an in-depth look at the investigative process, Rachel's arrest and trial for the murder of her baby. Under the act, anyone concealing the death of an illegitimate child is charged with murder unless there's a witness that the child was born dead.
The author excels with her descriptions of London, the squalor, the stench, the inhumane conditions of Newgate prison; covered in such graphic, vivid detail to make your skin crawl. I pity those unfortunate enough to end up in that god-forsaken place as it was beyond appalling experiencing it through the safety of the book's pages.
What didn't work: I didn't connect with the characters. It was difficult to feel empathy for Rachel until she was inprisoned but even then my empathy was really for anyone suffering under such atrocious conditions rather than Rachel herself. Walywn came across as a spineless ass; end of story.
I found it more than irritating that Rachel made no attempt to defend herself or for that matter speak. at all. It wasn't clear until the last whether Rachel had little memory of events, whether she was guilty and felt she deserved her fate or if there was something else at work.
With such tragic circumstances there was so much potential for emotional investment but sadly I just didn't care about the characters.
Whilst the ending first seemed implausible it was interesting to learn that it was actually inspired by true events and I did enjoy the author's notes regarding historical figures and literary licence. Overall a bleak but honest reflection of this historical period.