Title: The Cartographer’s Secret
Author: Tea Cooper
Published: October 28th 2020
Publisher: HQ Fiction – AU
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
A young woman’s quest to heal a family rift entangles her in one of Australia’s greatest historical puzzles when an intricately illustrated map offers a clue to the fate of a long-lost girl. A mesmerising historical mystery set in the Hunter Valley from bestselling author Tea Cooper for readers of Natasha Lester and Kate Morton.
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 one 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.
‘The map of her life, every place of significance she visited, every track she’d travelled, every story Pa had told her of the vast valley they called home, the Hunter Valley.’
The Cartographer’s Secret by Tea Cooper offers a delicate union between historical fact and compelling fiction. The Cartographer’s Secret presents a remarkable voyage of adventure, exploration, mystery and family secrets via a two fold narrative. All set to a picturesque Australian stage, The Cartographer’s Secret is a delightful tale that historical fiction fans will not want to miss.
In The Cartographer’s Secret, a young woman finds herself engulfed in a search that with carry her through the history books, as she works to solve a complex puzzle from the past involving a disappearance. Linking back to the Hunter Valley in 1880, The Cartographer’s Secret introduces the figure of Evie Ludgrove, an independent spirit ahead of her time, who loves to chart the landscape in her surrounding area in map form. Through the influence of her father who greatly respected the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, Evie is inspired both those around her. When an opportunity comes Evie’s way to play a part in solving the puzzle surrounding the final fate of a famous explorer, Evie is determined to close this mystery. Turning to her father’s paperwork and archives, Evie is compelled to explore a theory she has devised about the explorer’s whereabouts, but she vanishes in the process. Some thirty years later Evie’s final fate catches the interest of her relative, Letitia Rawlings. Following the death of her beloved brother to a tragic accident, Letitia is drawn to the comfort of her great Aunt Olivia. Despite her grief, Letitia is seduced by a stunning map, which might just offer an essential clue as to the final fate of her aunt Evie, who has been missing for a number of decades. On mission to solve this usual family disappearance, Letitia begins to uncover the secrets of her family’s complex past.
A new Tea Cooper novel is always a welcome sight. Cooper’s uncanny ability to draw out fascinating and largely unknown facets of history in the form of an engaging narrative is impressive. I have nothing but praise and admiration for this gifted Australian storyteller. The Cartographer’s Secret is yet another wonderful attribute to the Tea Cooper historical catalogue. The blend of discovery, intrigue, family history, love and strong independent female characters makes Tea Cooper’s latest an unmissable read.
The Cartographer’s Secret is marked by a double narrative that crosses two time zones. With a gap of only thirty years between the featured time frames in The Cartographer’s Secret, Tea Cooper has managed to clearly present a strong evocation of time, place and circumstance. I really appreciated the opportunity to hop back into Australia past, navigating Evie’s life in 1880 and Letitia’s world in 1911. With plenty attention to the finer details of each era, which is supplemented the author’s excellent research, The Cartographer’s Secret exposes a wealth of history. I was particularly taken with the thorough focus on cartography, illustration and early exploration in Australia. Letitia’s preoccupation for motor vehicle transportation also provided a great source of enjoyment.
Tea Cooper has an aptitude for casting determined and resolute female leads. With the life she breathes into Evie, Letitia and Oliva, Cooper has succeeded in creating a female cast that the reader admires. Despite these figures appearing in the past, there is something very alluring about their lives and adventures. The support cast adds further colour and solid interplay to this tale, particularly the male family members of this story.
The disappearance and the resulting narrative puzzle we are issued with to help solve with Evie and Letitia is what kept my eyes truly glued to the pages of The Cartographer’s Secret. With a number of possible theories building in my mind and ideas to test, the race to the end proved to be surprising and plausible.
Take a trek back into Australia’s stimulating past, thanks to the masterful writing of Tea Cooper. The Cartographer’s Secret issues readers with a wonderful journey back in time, to unravel a remarkable historical conundrum. The Cartographer’s Secret is another highly commendable title from Tea Cooper.
The Cartographer’s Secret by Tea Cooper was published on 28th October 2020 by HQ Fiction – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Cartographer’s Secret, Tea Cooper, visit here.
*I wish to thank Harlequin Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Cartographer’s Secret is book #123 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge