In Brisbane, early 1900, a new disease has broken out. Thirteen year old Issy, a strong-minded and courageous girl, goes to work as a maid for an undertaker. It is a time of rat-infested houses, factories and warehouses. Smart people keep and train terriers to catch rats for a living. Issy’s dad is one of them.
Disease breaks out, and the first death from the Black Death occurs, spread from the fleas on rats. All contacts are isolated and quarantined. Everyone is filled with fear and suspicion. People in the town report their neighbours at the slightest hint of sickness. Even so, people refuse to be inoculated.
After Issy and her family are quarantined, they return to find their home stripped bare of furniture and household belongs and everything burnt in the yard. Everyone stays away from them believing them to be contaminated, although cleared by the authorities. Friendless and alone, the family fights for survival.
Issy’s father’s dogs have been cared for by a friend and he launches back into the ratcatching business, making a good income now with the increased demand. When he becomes ill and the business is in danger of collapse, the ingenious Issy steps into the role, regardless of her distaste for both the dogs and the procedure.
Issy discovers that she’s good at business. She saves the extra money people give her for doing a good job, to build the life she wants for herself.
This interesting novel shows the social culture of the day; the double-standards and differing rules that applied for the rich, and the way they were protected, in contrast to those for the poor and powerless. There is a strong sense of time throughout the story and a clear picture of living and working conditions. A well-researched book, that that makes riveting reading, and brings to life an era of death and condemnation, but also one of courage and resilience.
Reviewed by Aurora Bale
Title: The Ratcatcher’s Daughter
Author: Pamela Rushby
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: April 2014 $ 16.99 RRP
Type: Junior Historical Fiction