The Second Mrs. Hockaday is the first novel I have read in this new year. And I am predicting that it will be in my top five favorites at the end of the year. That's how much I liked this book. Admittedly, it is about the Civil War period, which is my favorite, so that has some bearing on my admiration. But this is a great read...based on a true story, it read like a mystery, along with a subtle (maybe?) love story.
Placidia Fincher was seventeen years old when her step-sisters' wedding took place at the family's home in South Carolina and she first saw and met Major Gryffth Hockaday, CSA. His first wife had died while he was away at war and he had returned home to care for his son who was also ill. It was during this time that he had gone to the wedding and met Placidia. Mere hours later, Gryffth and Placidia were married and he took her back to his three hundred acre farm and infant son, Charlie. After two nights and one day, the Major was called back to the War, leaving his new young bride with all the responsibilities.
Major Hockaday was gone for two years and there were but few letters exchanged. Placidia carried on as best she could and surrounded herself with those she trusted, as she went through all the turmoil of living in the South as the War was being fought and lost. When Gryffth returned home from the War, he learned that Placidia had given birth to a child in his absence and was accused of murdering and burying the infant.
"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.”Placidia refused to reveal anything about the pregnancy or what happened after the birth.
The book begins with a letter written by Placidia to her cousin Mildred. Placidia was in jail at the courthouse when the letter was written. The story is then told through letters, inquest records, and entries written on the back pages of illustrations in a book. When those entries are discovered years later, the secrets began to be revealed. The time period of the entries is from 1865 to 1892, describing events from 1863. It is a fascinating story, and a study of how family secrets can affect others throughout the years.