…is the intriguing title of Carmen Radke’s historical mystery novel. I read the start in the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature, and was instantly hooked. A group of young Australian women, en route for a better life in America, are hidden on board a ship – and one of them goes missing… It was a fabulous read, and I’m very pleased to have Carmen here today to tell us something about her brides, and her shipboard setting.
Over to Carmen:
Red Soil and High Seas
The first time I saw a kangaroo hopping on red soil over the TV screen, I fell in love. More than 20 years later I set foot on red soil myself, and all the childhood emotions flooded back. Add to that the thrill of a sea voyage in the time of explorations, and you know why the setting alone would have been enough to make me write The Case of the Missing Bride.
The deciding point though, that made it impossible to get the story out of my mind, was that those young women really existed. They grew up in Victoria, in Australia, struggling with poverty in a country that was both incredibly modern and yet strictly clinging to the values of the British empire they simply called Home.
The few well-to-do, like my heroine Alyssa’s family, emulated a lifestyle that could have come straight out of Jane Austen’s novels, with balls, country visits and parties. For the poor, and their numbers grew rapidly after the gold rush in 1851 had fizzled out, survival was a daily struggle. No wonder that my brides leaped at the chance of marrying men with money in their pockets, no matter how far away.
How lucky they must have felt when they boarded the ship, their few possessions stowed carefully in their wooden boxes.
They would spend months at sea, even with the addition of a steam-engine to the sails that would be used to save precious coal.
Room was scarce, with bunks as tight as possible to save space. But having a bunk of their own, even if they couldn’t stretch out in it, with a pillow and a blanket, was a luxury most of the brides hadn’t encountered. What was deprivation for Alyssa, constituted a soft life for them. No matter the stench of the coal, or tar, or human sweat, they were heading towards paradise. Husbands waiting for them, three fairly decent meals a day (biscuits with or without maggots, boiled salt pork, boiled salt beef, boiled mutton, peas and flour were staples), a few chores they would have done anyway, and having a doctor to look after them in illness – how could they not be happy?
Instead of waking up in a tin hovel in Tin Pan Alley, they woke to the sound of sailors running over wooden planks, the groan of sails, or the belch of the steam engine. Storms had to be endured huddled under deck, or being thrown around like a sack, but they endured it together, and with visions of a good future ahead.
I gave them as much comfort as I could, when it came to creating the vessel they’re sailing on. Although the big ocean-liners haven’t arrived yet, expeditions have been all the rage for decades now, and taking gentlemen explorers as passengers has developed into a lucrative business for shipping companies. Gone are the days when the most precious commodities are carried below deck in bulk.
The brides’ ship has been converted to take advantage of this situation, only to have the War between the States as the American Civil war known back then make a dent in the business.
What was hard on the ships’ owners, was equally hard on the crew, who after dealing with normal cargo all their lives, suddenly found themselves having to deal with the niceties of polite society. I’m sure the Captain found himself incredibly grateful to have at least Matron to chaperone the young women. No wonder he delegated as much of the responsibility as he could.
Thank you, Carmen! Glittering Death, the brand-new sequel to The Case of the Missing Bride, is now available too.
Carmen has spent most of her life with ink on her fingers. She has worked as a newspaper reporter in Germany and New Zealand, but now has swapped the newsroom for a cramped desk in her spare room in the UK. She loves history, travel, and has convinced herself that day-dreaming is considered work. When she’s not writing novels or scripts, she can be found watching films (1930s to 1940s screwball comedies and film noir to blockbusters from the Marvel universe), and planning her next trip.