Murder Most Melancholy

Murder Most Melancholy

In Book 2, Penrose & Pyke venture to the edge of madness, when they reunite to investigate two tragic deaths and an old mystery.

The last words of a frightened woman may be a vital clue to the disappearance of an old friend, if they aren’t the ravings of delusional lunatic. Detective Constable Charlie Pyke is desperate to find out. But is he desperate enough to risk the life of his sleuthing partner, medical student Grace Penrose? More to the point, can he stop her?

The answers lie behind the locked doors of a sanitorium for wealthy women of delicate sensibilities, where high walls and dark corridors conceal more than one shocking secret.

The ‘Penrose & Pyke Mysteries’ are a series of heart-warming, pulse-racing historical mysteries, set during a remarkable period of social upheaval in 1890s New Zealand. The fight for women’s rights has never been such deadly fun.

Reader Reviews

Leaps to life off the page, with a beautiful contrast between the grimness of the times and the humour of the characters.CJ
“At times I just had to take a break to slow my heart rate down!” Kathy C

Another cracking good tale.Mary O

Inspiration

The Penrose & Pyke historical mysteries are set during a remarkable period of social upheaval in 1890s New Zealand. The first book, Murder in the Devil’s Half Acre, was inspired by early campaigners for worker’s rights in Dunedin. Women’s reproductive rights (or lack of them) and the Victorian enthusiasm for large asylums underpin the second book, Murder Most Melancholy. The third book, Murder By Vote, will be set against the backdrop of the fight for women’s suffrage.

Dunedin harbour from Signal Hill

As in the first book, Dunedin’s striking landscape plays a role in the second story, providing precipitous cliffs perfect for dramatic effect. The fictional lunatic asylum in Murder Most Melancholy sits at the northern edge of Dunedin, near the small coastal settlement of Waitati. The images show the clifftop train route into Waitati from Dunedin and the trestle bridges on the coastal flats just before reaching the station.

Mental health care was surprisingly ahead of its time in New Zealand in the late Victorian era. Sadly, the harsh realities of colonial life created an over-supply of people in need of care. Hence, asylums were built in the countryside on a massive scale – and none grander than the massive gothic Seacliff Asylum, north of Dunedin.

Seacliff Asylum (Source: Hocken Library)
Seacliff Asylum attendants (Source: Hocken Library)
Seacliff female attendants (Source: National Library)

The new asylums promoted fresh air and outdoor exercise, meaningful work, uplifting entertainments, and a nutritious diet. For some poor souls, this must have been a major improvement in their life, despite being held alongside every manner of person from the criminally insane, to chronic alcoholics, epileptics, elderly people with dementia, and everything in between.

My fictional Stillwaters Sanctuary is a far more refined setting, catering to wealthy young women of delicate sensibilities. Naturally, the apparent tranquillity hides a darker side of secrets for Penrose and Pyke to unravel.

For more on the locations and themes in the story, hop over to my blog posts: North Otago Rocks, Victorian Lunatic Asylums and On Location: Waitati.

My thanks to the Hocken Library and National Library for their wonderful collections of old photographs.

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