Francoise Laurent is the 16-year-old daughter of an alcoholic laundress and a drunkard. She wears her fingers down to the bone helping her parents to pay the rent and keep a minimum of food on the table. She dreams of another life, life as a maid, with nice clean dresses and ribbons in her hair. When small pox strikes her household and she is the only survivor, she sees an opportunity to be all that she had ever dreamed of…Maid to Madame Pommereau, the wife of a wealthy fur trader. She humbles herself to the woman and is taken under her wing…But the mistress is very moody and her sharp tongue is almost unbearable at times. One day, Francoise sees the chance to take a pair of Madame’s beautiful gloves, relishing the thought of having something so very beautiful to call her own.
Before Francoise knows what is happening, she is thrown into jail, accused of stealing the gloves and sentenced to death by hanging. Everyone in Quebec in the time period knows that the only way for a woman awaiting death to avoid the noose is if she marries the hangman and he makes himself responsible for her. Due to an untimely death, there is no hangman, so she lives day after day in her cell, waiting for a man to be appointed the position. Then she gets an idea. The man next to her will be released from jail when his sentence has been served….What if she could convince him to become the hangman and marry her? And so she tells him her sad story…. Can she convince this man to volunteer for the worst job of all, being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people who have sometimes only stolen food for starving families? Will he marry her?
This novel does a beautiful job of showing the harshness of Quebec in 18th-century Canada, where people left France to find a New World, and only found disease, poverty, and tyrannical laws. If you enjoy historical fiction that shows the injustice of the times, like Kathleen Kent’s The Heretic’s Daughter, you will want to add The Hangman in the Mirror, by Kate Cayley, to your to-read list.