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Midnight Fires: A Mystery with Mary Wollstonecraft Paperback – April 10, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
Book 1 of 2 in the Mary Wollstonecraft Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At the start of this captivating historical set in 1786, Mary Wollstonecraft is on her way to Ireland to become a governess, that most humiliating of occupations. At Mitchelstown Castle in County Cork, headstrong Mary, the future mother of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, and future women's rights advocate, is determined to pen a novel and remain above the fray of castle politics while schooling Lord and Lady Kingsborough's daughters. Three suspicious deaths, however, compel Mary to seek justice for a poor young sailor, the family's troubled former governess, and even an aristocrat. It appears everyone from poet George Ogle, Lady K's new flirt, to a land tenant or two has a motive in one or more of these tangled deaths. As Mary snoops around in search of the culprit, she is bound not to lose herself to the mystery, her job, or the charms of any man. Wright (Mad Season and four other Ruth Wilmarth mysteries) deftly illuminates 18th-century class tensions. (Apr.)
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Review

"Despite the constraints of class, culture, stays and skirts, Wright's fictionalized Mary Wollstonecraft is thoroughly engaging on her voyage of detection and self-discovery." --Kate Flora, author of Stalking Death

"An entertainingly seamy portrayal of provincial aristocrats and the day-to-day messiness of 18th century life. Add a feisty, engaging heroine and the result is an atmospheric and absorbing whodunit." --Susanne Alleyn, author of Cavalier of the Apocalypse

"Despite the constraints of class, culture, stays and skirts, Wright's fictionalized Mary Wollstonecraft is thoroughly engaging on her voyage of detection and self-discovery." -- Kate Flora, author of Stalking Death<br /><br />"An entertainingly seamy portrayal of provincial aristocrats and the day-to-day messiness of 18th century life. Add a feisty, engaging heroine and the result is an atmospheric and absorbing whodunit." --Susanne Alleyn, author of Cavalier of the Apocalypse
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 243 pages
  • Publisher: Perseverance Press; Original edition (April 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564744884
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564744883
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,543,927 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

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Midnight Fires (Mary Wollstonecraft)I have just finished Midnight Fires, and I found it a fascinating re-creation of what few people realize (even Americans of Irish descent) was a lingering feudal era for Ireland toward the end of the "enlightened" eighteenth century. The secrets and Byzantine plots evolving in the castle kept me on the edge of my seat, and the rough justice wrenched from the situation by both exploited women and exploited peasants was stunning. The development of characters like the hilarious (and dangerous) Cutterby was absorbing throughout. Congratulations are due the author on a major achievement. Mary Wollstonecroft, as part of a great literary tradition (she married Percy Bysshe Shelley and bore a daughter, Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein), was such an interesting historical figure and outspoken female that she makes a fitting choice as protagonist for this novel. There's a sequel and a series. I can hardly wait to read more.
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Format: Paperback
I don't read a lot of mysteries but as a historical fiction lover I'm trying to add a few historical mysteries to my diet. I enjoyed this book, although I don't think there's anything remarkable about the mystery aspect of it, and it doesn't have that suck-you-in, heartpounding factor of a thriller. What drew me to it were its historical setting in eighteenth-century Ireland and its real-life heroine, Mary Wollstonecraft.

Hands down the best part of this book is Mary. Mary's a gem of a character. Normally a heroine in a historical fiction novel who is ahead of her time in thought and action would be unrealistic, but Mary really was that kind of woman! In fact, her first book, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, makes an appearance in this story.

Smarting from a failed love affair, indebted and responsible for her sisters' welfare, Mary leaves London behind and takes a one-year assignment as a governess to a noble Irish family, though she has serious reservations:

"Governesses, she had heard, constituted one of the largest classes of insane women in asylums. The thought was not at all comforting."

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and this gig as a governess is temporary. Mary has plans, she's going to be being an authoress, and the Kingsboroughs provide plenty of inspiration:

"I haven't penned a novel," she said. "But I do have one in mind."

And she had, yes. She had begun a novel in her head. One of the characters would be a lady who loved her dogs more than her daughters. A lord who hunted, womanized, pitchcapped unhappy peasants, and drank his way through life...

She found it promising. She imagined the faces of her dumbfounded employers as they read her first novel.
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Format: Paperback
First Line: The crossing from Holyhead to Dublin had been relatively calm, but just as the Irish coast came into view, a contrary wind blew up.

Mary Wollstonecraft is on her way to Mitchelstown Castle in County Cork to be a governess to Lord Kingsborough's daughters. To her, it is humiliating-- a fate most devoutly not to be desired. But with debts to pay and a pack of siblings who constantly turn to her as a source of money, she has no other option. She wants to work out the year she contracted for, to avoid having anyone find out just how much she lied about her qualifications, and to keep out of castle politics by writing a novel. Mary lives to write.

She doesn't even get off the ship before something happens. A young Irish sailor who'd just given her a letter to deliver to someone falls overboard and drowns. Mary could swear that she caught a glimpse of a knife-wielding man standing by the young Irishman, but with the weather being so foul, she must be mistaken.

Life at Mitchelstown Castle is not easy. The oldest daughter can't stand Mary at first, and the unhappy, self-centered Lady Kingsborough finds the proud and stubborn Mary difficult to deal with. When two more people at the caste die, Mary believes those two deaths tie into the death of the sailor, and she won't rest until she finds justice for all three.

At first I found Mary a bit of a handful myself. She is a very passionate young female who has a tendency to eye all the available young men in her vicinity. She spends so much time on visiting the nearby cottagers as well as on her investigation that I wondered where she found the time to teach those young girls anything, but she manages to get everything done.
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In 1786 Mary Wollstonecraft assumes life for her could not get any lower as she accepts humiliating work in County Cork, Ireland as a governess to the daughters of Lord and Lady Kingsboroug. Still, one must eat aand single women have few options. Thus Mary plans to make the best of her stay at Mitchelstown Castle.

Mary has given herself two rules to abide by. First she plans to write a novel. Second and foremost she is determined to stay out of the castle political squabbles. However, her resolve vanishes with the deaths of a sailor, the former governess, and an aristocrat. She believes a serial killer is on the loose and investigates seeking the link only to find several people with motives, but none with reasoning to kill the trio.

This is a terrific Georgian mystery with Mary Wollstonecraft starring as an amateur sleuth. Her investigation is clever as it enhances the overall theme of class and gender differences. Mary is the perfect guide for readers to look at the great divides in the late eighteenth century Ireland as she will one day soon write her famous manifesto. Nancy Means Wright provides an excellent historical mystery starring a superb heroine.

Harriet Klausner
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