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Sunday, September 22, 2013


Keep your wits about you - the action changes quickly – but what a brilliant read.  (Review by Carolyn Howie)

If you are the kind who cheats and reads the last few pages, then don’t buy The Oliver Tryst.

But if you love an historical mystery novel, set in many of the places you have probably visited in our country and will burn the midnight oil just to turn another page to see what happens to a delightful heroine, then this is definitely the book for you.

Quaintly written under the pseudonym of Will Robinson, Durban author Frances Hilton uses him as her sleuth to hunt down the story of the O’Connell family, who built “Broadmead”, a magnificent old home in Hidcote, in the Natal Midlands, at the time of the Boer War.

The story begins at the start of the 2nd World War, with flashbacks to the Boer War and forward to the 40’s, 70’s and today.

Siovhan O’Connell, an orphan, is sent to a Catholic boarding school in Johannesburg and the nuns’ harsh dictums about personal behaviour and “keeping oneself pure” for the man you will marry, colour every decision she will make in her troubled life.

There is love, but more often it is lust from the men who ensnare her, and the love is for her children, whom she will never abandon. Her struggles to provide for them in post-World War 2 Durban often bring them near to poverty and abandonment, but her strength of character shines through and you find yourself cheering her on to better days.

As she seeks to find out who she is really is, there are relatives in Graaf Reinet, who want family secrets buried forever .But there is just one man, an uncle to whom she can return when everyone else fails her.

The characters visit the former Rhodesia, and Greytown, Estcourt, Mooi River, and many other places in KwaZulu-Natal.

There is suspense, when one of the O’Connells sneak off at night to fight for the Boers, as so many Irish people did, angered at the British treatment of their countrymen during the potato famines in Ireland.

There is the mysterious Ashling who is, one minute, ethereal, and the next a nurse on the front line.

Keep your wits about you - the action changes quickly – but what a brilliant read.

On a human level this is a triumph for the author, who has been almost blind since 1991 – she has only minor peripheral vision – and who used her touch-typing skills on an old Adler typewriter to write the book without being able to read it!

The Oliver Tryst, published by Reach Publishers, Westville, costs R160 and is available from Frances on 031 2073317, or buy it from Tape Aids from the Blind reception, 14 Mitchell Crescent, Durban 4001 or from Adams Books, Musgrave Centre. ISBN 978-0-620-53554-0 - Carolyn Howie