The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

Friday, Friday, Fri-YAY! I only worked four days this week, but they were the longest four days of my life, I swear. But now it’s Friday and that means I have two whole days of nothing coming at me when I finish work tonight, so nothing can be very wrong today. That’s why I decided to end this workweek with a historical mystery where absolutely everything is wrong and the happy ending is also very bittersweet.


Title: The Second Mrs. Hockaday {272 pgs}

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publication Date: January 10, 2017


“All I had known for certain when I came around the hen house that first evening in July and saw my husband trudging into the yard after lifetimes spent away from us, a borrowed bag in his hand and the shadow of grief on his face, was that he had to be protected at all costs from knowing what had happened in his absence. I did not believe he could survive it.”

When Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, his new bride is left to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure the darkest days of the war on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. What really transpired in the two years he was away?

Inspired by a true incident, this saga conjures the era with uncanny immediacy. Amid the desperation of wartime, Placidia sees the social order of her Southern homeland unravel as her views on race and family are transformed. A love story, a story of racial divide, and a story of the South as it fell in the war, The Second Mrs. Hockaday reveals how that generation–and the next–began to see their world anew.

So, since I’m a good girl and didn’t skip to the end first thing {and also because I didn’t read to the end of the summary before pressing the request button on NetGalley}, I didn’t know that this was based on a true incident. After having reading the whole book and finding that out…how terrible.

Placidia meets Major Hockaday on the day her stepsister is getting married. She knows next to nothing about him, yet when he asks for her hand in marriage only days later, she accepts because she feels their souls calling to one another. It’s beautiful and terribly romantic, and then he takes her back to his farm, spends one night with her, and then must leave for the Civil War. Placidia is left alone in a strange place with Major Hockaday’s young son and workers who don’t listen to her. During the two years absence of her husband, the second Mrs. Hockaday becomes pregnant and then is accused of murdering it, so she is sent to jail to await trial.

This story is told through letters, which is effective in driving me crazy with wanting to know what happens next. The first half of the book is Placidia writing to her cousin Millie, and this is peppered with court reports of testimonies of what happened while Major Hockaday was gone. Placidia writes of their brief courtship and her life after the major leaves, and how she must learn to survive on her own when she’s never done it before. The second half of the book is told through letters from Achilles Hockaday, Placidia’s son, to his Aunt Millie, his half-brother Charlie, as well as letters from the younger Millie to her mother. Most importantly, though, this part contains Placidia’s diary that was written on the back of the illustrations in Great Expectations that Achilles finds one day. His parents have been dead for quite some time and he wants to find out what really happened in those two years, so he sets out on an adventure to figure out why his mother went to jail.

Since it’s pretty obvious that Achilles is Placidia’s child with the major, I’ll spoil you this: yes, Placidia and the major do get back together, so there is a happy ending of sorts. Things change and the truth comes out, and the major realizes what a jerk he was and takes back his wife because he loves her with all his heart. But that doesn’t mean that this mystery is solved the moment we see Achilles’s name in the text. No way, that just adds to the whole mystery because when Placidia’s letters stopped, she was still in trouble.

But none of this means that the happy ending leaves us with smiles. A young teenager left alone for two years on a farm in the South during the Civil War…It’s a recipe for disaster and heartache. Placidia is lucky because she the help of her brother-in-law, a sweet, kind man who does what he can to keep her alive, but who entangles himself in rumors because of his kind nature. It’s amazing to read about Placidia fighting against everything and everyone to keep Charlie and herself alive, because she’s so young. But she learns what she can and pulls through, even if, at the end, she ends up in jail for a crime that we’re not sure she really committed.

I’m going to warn you now: there’s a lot of heartbreak in this novel, and a lot of times where you will want to pull Placidia into your lap and tell her that it’s okay, you’ll take care of everything because she works far too hard and people are junk and she shouldn’t have to deal with any of them. An entire family was affected by, really, one night, and the way Achilles pushes through to find the truth would make his mother proud.

Basically, I’m telling you to put this book on the huge pile of books that come out on Tuesday, because this is one that people are going to be talking about and for good reason, too.

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