I love reading historical fiction set in Australia, and had read and enjoyed a couple of Tea Cooper’s novels in the past, so I was definitely keen to get my hands and eyes on The Cartographer’s Secret. This one is backlist now – Cooper’s The Fossil Hunter came out in 2021, and The Butterfly Collector is coming out in 2022 – but I was so pleased to finally get into it (and won’t be waiting so long to get into the next ones)! Check out the synopsis for the novel, then scroll down for my review.
Synopsis of Tea Cooper’s The Cartographer’s Secret
1880 The Hunter Valley
Evie Ludgrove loves to map the landscape around her home – hardly surprising since she grew up in the shadow of her father’s obsession with the great Australian explorer Dr Ludwig Leichhardt. So when an advertisement appears in The Bulletin magazine offering a thousand pound reward for proof of where Leichhardt met his fate, Evie is determined to figure it out – after all, there are clues in her father’s papers and in the archives of The Royal Geographical Society. But when Evie sets out to prove her theory she vanishes without a trace, leaving behind a mystery that taints everyone’s lives for 30 years.
When Letitia Rawlings arrives at the family estate in her Model T Ford, her purpose is to inform her Great Aunt Olivia of a bereavement. But Letitia is also escaping her own problems – her brother’s sudden death, her mother’s scheming and her own dissatisfaction with the life planned out for her. So when Letitia discovers a beautifully illustrated map that might hold a clue to the fate of her missing aunt, Evie Ludgrove, her curiosity is aroused and she sets out to discover the truth of Evie’s disappearance.
But all is not as it seems at Yellow Rock estate and as events unfold, Letitia begins to realise that solving the mystery of her family’s past could offer as much peril as redemption.
My review of The Cartographer’s Secret by Tea Cooper
Honestly, I thought this was such a brilliant read and I am kicking myself for not getting to it sooner!
The split time/perspective was used to brilliant effect, giving the reader just enough more information in the 1911 timeline to be able to tell when Lettie was on the right track, but also not so much that we weren’t invested in how the mystery would be resolved. There were a bunch of times throughout the novel that I actually gasped out loud and stopped reading to explain to my husband what was happening.
I thought the blend of fact and fiction was absolutely impeccable – Cooper does such an incredible job of taking a real life mystery and giving it a satisfying ending, without actually imposing a made up ending on the real life event. Perhaps that doesn’t make sense, but I don’t want to give any spoilers haha.
The characters were fabulous and strong and felt fleshed out to me. I loved Lettie and Olivia in particular, and Evie of course too. Lettie mother was less likable, but still a character that I enjoyed reading about.
Of course there is a romantic relationship that develops over the course of the story, and I really enjoyed that too- it felt sweet and natural, and the characters both maintained their own motivations and stories at the same time as their friendship grew off to the side a little.
I think readers familiar with the Hunter might enjoy this one in particular – it’s always fun to read a book set in a place you know – but even without knowing the region very well myself, I did feel like I got a good sense of the setting and really felt like I slipped right into it every time I picked it up. I definitely recommend this for fellow fans of Aussie historical fiction, and like I said above, I’m so keen to read Cooper’s newer books now!
Do let me know in the comments if you’ve decided to pick this one up, or if you’ve read it and would like to share your thoughts!
The Cartographer’s Secret by Tea Cooper
Out now from Harper Collins.
Source: Free ecopy kindly provided by Harper Collins via Netgalley (thank you!)
Category: Australian historical fiction, stories about women