Publisher: Self-Published (Trade Paperback – 8 June 2021)
Series: Bermagui Mystery – Book Two
Length: 222 pages
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Prepare for a quick and fun historical murder mystery with The Widow’s Follower, an excellent and compelling second novel from Canberran author Anna Weatherly.
1919, Sydney. No-one was shedding tears for the death of Roy Maguire, especially not his wife. She’d been hiding from him for the past five years and now she’d come back to reclaim her freedom. It should’ve been simple. So why was she finding herself the object of interest for half the criminals in Sydney? At first it was mystifying. Then it was terrifying.
This is the second novel involving May Williams, once the wife of Sydney crime figure Roy Maguire. This time May travels to Sydney where she finds that extricating herself from her abusive husband is a dangerous business, even when he’s dead.
The Widow’s Follower is the second novel from Weatherly, following on from her 2018 debut, Death in the Year of Peace. This series is a fantastic historical murder mystery series that follows a young woman in 1919 who takes the name May Williams and flees from Sydney to the small town of Bermagui to escape from her abusive, criminal husband. The first book sets the scene for this series while also presenting a murder mystery as the protagonist attempts to uncover a killer in town. This sequel is set right after the initial book and sees May return to Sydney after the death of her husband.
I really liked the interesting story contained within The Widow’s Follower, as it combines historical fiction elements with an interesting, gangster-filled mystery, as well as featuring some great character development. Despite being relatively short for a novel, clocking in at just over 200 pages, Weatherly manages to achieve a lot in this book. The Widow’s Follower primarily focuses on May being harassed by gangsters and criminals around Sydney as she attempts to settle her late husband’s affairs. This gets complicated when it becomes apparent that before his death, her husband had stolen a great deal of money from his employers and managed to annoy all the big movers in town. This forces May to investigate her husband’s last few days to find the money to save herself and her friends from these gangster’s ruthless attentions. She also starts investigating the murder of her husband’s lover, a crime he was accused of before his death, as she cannot believe that even he could kill the father of his illegitimate child, whose welfare May also becomes concerned about.
This leads to an intriguing and extremely fast-paced story, as May is drawn into a twisted web of lies, manipulations and additional murders, while also trying to decide about her future. There is an interesting blend of storylines contained within this novel, and I quite liked the exciting and dramatic directions that it went in, especially as May slowly gets closer to the truth. May finds herself the target of several dangerous people from Sydney’s underbelly, each of whom is interested in her for all the wrong reasons. At the same time, May’s friends back in Bermagui find themselves in danger, and this results in some compelling discussions about May’s future and whether she wants to stay in Sydney, where she has some chance at professional success, or return to the small town and pursue love. These enjoyable storylines cleverly set up a massive twist about three quarters of the way through that I honestly did not see coming. This cool twist changes everything about the novel, and I deeply appreciated how it was foreshadowed and the implications it has on the rest of the story. The final part of the book is an intensely paced, as May finds herself in the middle of a dangerous conflict between some of the antagonists, while also reeling from some big revelations. I really found myself glued to the final part of the book, especially as it contained some cool scenes, such as a multi-person chase throughout the streets of Sydney. The book ends on a positive note, and it will be interesting to see where Weatherly takes the story next, especially as the protagonist’s storyline seems mostly fulfilled.
I also appreciated the cool setting of this novel, the historical city of Sydney in 1919. Weatherly spends a significant amount of time exploring Sydney throughout the novel, and you end up getting a great sense of its size, layout and people during the early 20th century. The author goes out of their way to try and emulate the historical version of this city, including by featuring clippings from real-life historical newspapers at the start of every chapter, a fun technique that I felt helped drag me into the moment. Weatherly also spends time examining how recent world events had impacted the city, such as the recent Spanish Flu pandemic (very topical) and the slow return of Australian troops from the European battlefronts of World War I. This fascinating setting added a lot to the authenticity and intrigue of The Widow’s Follower’s story, and it was really fun to explore this captivating historical locale.
Overall, I had a wonderful time with The Widow’s Follower, and I ended up reading pretty much the entire thing in one sitting. Anna Weatherly came up with a clever and entertaining tale, and I had a great time getting to the bottom of the intense mystery that was featured within. A fantastic and enjoyable piece of Australian historical fiction, this is a great book to check out and I look forward to seeing what this new author produces in the future.