Book review: The Second Mrs. Hockaday inspired by a true event

The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers


Published: November 14, 2017. Algonquin Books. Trade paperback.

Doted on by her father, Placidia Fincher lives a happy life in South Carolina. At only seventeen years old, Placidia agrees to marry widower Major Gryffth Hockaday – who is much older than her (32 years old) with a small child. But only after two days together, the Major is called into service for the Civil War. Now, with little help, Placidia is expected to manage her husband’s large farm, while being a mother figure to his son. However, Placidia is not ready for this type of responsibility, and it doesn’t help that her new husband is set in his ways on running the farm.

Major Hockaday is taken prisoner, and returns two years later a forever changed man to a forever changed home. His once beloved farm has degraded into nothing but untreated fields and starving animals, with a wife who’s on the breaking point. In her husband’s absence, she had to deal with disloyal slaves, isolation, thievery, and harsh weather conditions that put little to no food on the table. Placdia also ended up giving birth to Hockaday’s second child, but sadly lost it. Instead of finding that loving and comfort support in each other, the Major leaves Placidia and presses charges against – accusing her or murder.

It’s quite a journey following this young woman, learning about her life and trying to discover the truth to this puzzling and horrifically event. Placidia sees social order of her Southern homeland unravel as her views on race and family are transformed. This maybe a dark themed novel, but Rivers has highlighted the difficulties women faced who were left alone, while their men were off fighting and dying in large numbers.

What makes this story great is that it is told through letters, diary entries and inquest/court documents, which makes this book feel like you are reading a distant memory with historical documentation to back it up. Which is even more mind blowing because Rivers novel was inspired by a true event.

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