Unshackled (The Sandstone Trilogy #2) by Michael Beashel

‘Leary’s has to grow.  It has to be bigger to be stronger.’

Sydney, 1855. The second book in ‘The Sandstone Trilogy’ follows immediately after the first. John Leary is realising his dream: he and wife Clarissa are expecting their first child, and his construction firm is making a name for itself.

But an act of sabotage, resulting in the death of workers, is disastrous.  John, already driven to succeed, is motivated even further.  He wants to know the truth about the sabotage, he wants to grow Leary’s even further.  But he has a problem.  His father-in-law has a majority share in the company.  John Leary solves that problem when he arranges for a silent partner buys his father-in-law’s share.  But who is the silent partner, and why is John determined to withhold that information for as long as he can?

‘It wasn’t knowledge or skills that made you powerful but the highly placed people you knew, and more importantly, what they could do for you.’

Leary’s moves from one success to the next. But it comes at a cost.  Leary’s wins contracts by undercutting rivals (which causes other problems).  John Leary himself is caught between past and present, insecurity making him difficult to work and live with.

I have very mixed feelings about John Leary.  As in the first book, I didn’t care for some of his actions.  But I loved reading about the development of Sydney, about the challenges of building during the 19th century.  For me, while there are some memorable characters in this trilogy, it is the setting and the building activity that have held my attention. How will it end? As soon as I finished, I moved straight onto the third book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith