Buy this book at
To Past Reviews Index
Back to Last Page

An Incidental Death in Monterey

John J. O’Hagan

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Zumaya Enigma

Published : 2017

Copyright : John J. O’Hagan 2017

ISBN-10 : PB 1-61271-303-3
ISBN-13 : PB 978-1-61271-303-8

Publisher's Write-Up

Father Juan Ibarra is a Franciscan friar in California. He also happens to be a physician. He has been sent to the territory to bring some relief to the native Californians, who are suffering terribly under the imposed rule of the Spanish Empire, particularly from introduced disease.

Father Juan is asked to perform a routine autopsy on a young Indian woman. To his dismay he discovers that she was murdered. As he and Major Eduardo Carrillo, the commander of the Monterey Presidio, investigate the death it develops that the young woman was an unwilling concubine to the governor of California. Further, she had recently been threatened by the governor’s wife.

It turns out sexual infidelity is not the governor's only failing. He has been dealing under the table with the captain of an American ship in the harbor, and the dead woman served as a courier in financial dealings between the governor and the Americans, all to the detriment of the King.

An Incidental Death in Monterey follows Father Ibarra’s investigation from an accidental drowning to a murder to a murder with the governor as the prime suspect. Ultimately, it becomes a case of discovering, too late to prevent another tragedy, exactly what took place.

Column Ends


Reader Reviews

Why not Submit a Review your own Review for this book?

Review by Molly Martin (300419) Rating (9/10)

Review by Molly Martin
Book Source: Not Known
Rating 9/10

John J. O’Hagan’s An Incidental Death in Monterey begins as a grey robed monk readies himself to begin a medical exam of a young woman who drowned in the sea during a storm the previous night.

Father Juan Ibarra is not only a Franciscan; he is also a physician.

The narrative moves next to Don Pedro Fages, Governor of Alta California, he is awaiting arrival of a boat from the American ship out in the bay. The boat is to carry him, and his aide, a servant girl, Jacinta, to the vessel for a meeting with the captain. The ship is in need of repair before it can return to the east coast of the continent. While the Captain asks permission of the Governor to beach his ship and get the repairs done; the governor knows the rule of the sea demands that a ship needing repair must be allowed to make those repairs before moving on.

The governor determines that a dinner party with Captain McHugh the American ship captain along with some of his officers, the new commander from the Presidio and Eulalia’s widowed friend Sylvia de Anda is in order.

The dinner was pleasant, Sylvia and the new commander appeared to strike up friendship and the tale meandered on with the American ship moving to gently ground itself to effect the needed repairs, and a series of firm restrictions regarding behaviour were issued to the Americans.

From that beginning the reader is carried along on a fast moving narrative filled with perfidy, deceit, a husband’s philandering and a wife’s angry scorn and loud, angry demand for a divorce, Don Fages’ desperation as he realizes his career is now in jeopardy, a servant who is little more than a slave, a murder, theft of money from the crown and the imprisonment of Eulalia Fages at the mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. It is a somewhat breathless rush from one sticky wicket to the next.

The good Franciscans have been convinced by the Governor that his wife is overwrought, telling tales to everyone, wants a divorce, and he is not guilty of any wrong doing.

Father Ibarra quietly moves through the various strata of society, listens well and soon has most of the mystery unravelled.

While interest in the area by the British and the Russians has waned, and mounting interest by the fledgling government along the East Coast of the Continent is becoming well known, it is the heavy hand of the Spanish Empire weighing upon the people of Alta California. Native people are falling prey to diseases introduced by the European priests and other who come and go in the area. Father Junipero Sera, the mission system, and Spanish rule are discussed as is the little footpath widened and smoothed with travel until today El Camino Real is a major roadway along the California Coast.

I very much enjoyed this trek through ‘might have happened that way’ history of the California I knew, and loved most of my life. I was born in the Bay area, raised in the San Joaquin Valley, grew up learning of El Camino Real, the kings highway, with it system of missions a day’s walk apart from the Bay Area north to San Diego South, and visited many of the restored missions.

The rule of Spanish governors in California was something we studied in school. This particular narrative set down by John O’Hagan is well written, filled with credible characters, well detailed settings, and plenty of conspiracy, trickery and intrigue to keep the reader turning the pages.

Note: the author relates this much of the story is true: In 1775 Doña Eulalia Fages, wife of the Governor of California, Pedro Fages, caught the governor en flagrante delicto with one of the servants in the kitchen of their home She flew into a rage, chased the servant from the house, spread the story of her husband’s perfidy and immediately began petition for divorce.

Because she would not relent spreading the story, the governor had his wife imprisoned at Mission San Carlos for four months. The servant was never heard from again.

All else is fiction.

I really enjoy historical fiction based upon an actual event and a coulda, mebbe-was, mighta-been tale woven in a highly readable manner. One of the better efforts in this field I have read. Stimulating Read, happy to recommend.
Molly Martin (30th April 2019)

Back to Top of Page
Column Ends