Once again, Bruce Cooke has written a riveting story. The Pursuit of Mary McBride details
the life of Rebecca Smith, a young orphan in London in 1832. She is taken in by the madam of the
well-to-do London Gentlemen's Club and learns the trade when she comes of age. At the whim of a
puritanical judge, Rebecca and her fellow prostitutes are sent to Australia, not for her occupation
but because of a trumped up charge of theft from one of the club's patrons. Thus, Rebecca begins a
life of desperation, first in prison, then as the wife of a brute, and later during the long trek
to find her daughter, Mary McBride, who has been sold to another settler. Rebecca is joined on her
quest by Campbell McGregor, Mary's young suitor.
This is a tale of love found in unusual places and highlights the pioneer spirit of early
Australian settlers, many of whom were originally sent there as convicts. The landscape is broad and
as familiar, in some respects, as the American West. The hardships and some types of people were
definitely the same. Cooke, once again, has drawn believable characters that you want to cheer on,
especially Rebecca and her determination to survive at all costs.
I really liked this book. This is the story that I would like New Zealand writer Beth Heywood to
write about her own country as I mentioned in my review of her book,
Cherished. There is something
very appealing about settlement stories that I find refreshing. A family working in a natural
landscape, dealing with survival and building something together without the distractions of urban
life is often idyllic. Bruce Cooke, however, injects the reality and often brutality of human beings
into his stories, and this one is no exception. But nobility is still present, and that pushes his
work a notch higher than many writers who would either create saints for us to read about or push our
noses into the grit of life. In The Pursuit of Mary McBride, Cooke balances both, presenting
three-dimensional characters and offering a sweeping story for readers to enjoy.
Once again, I highly recommend Bruce Cooke's work. The Pursuit of Mary McBride is a gem.