Australian author Colleen McCullough is probably best known for her beloved bestseller, The Thorn Birds. But in the years since the release of that brilliant work, McCullough has concentrated on other topics, mainly her epic series, The Masters of Rome. Now, in her latest, Morgan's Run, McCullough returns to her beloved down-under to tell the story of that nation's birth.

At the center of this powerful narrative is the gentle Richard Morgan. The son of an English tavern-keeper, Morgan is a hard working and devoted son, husband, and father. However, after the devastating deaths of his wife and son, Morgan falls in with unsavory company and finds himself the victim of an elaborate set-up. He ends up a convict in some of England's worst prisons.

By chance, he is chosen to board the infamous First Fleet, which transported over 500 males and over 100 females from England to the mysterious Botany Bay at the end of the 18th century. But this was not a pleasure cruise. After spending many anguishing months aboard the filthy prison vessels, Morgan and his fellow inmates found their worst nightmares were just beginning: they were expected to civilize the hostile land.

A man of quiet strength and strong moral convictions, Richard Morgan is one of Colleen McCullough's most compelling characters. He stands out among the rest of the convicts due to his keen intelligence, common sense, and gentle willingness to help others. Throughout his trials and tribulations, Morgan remains dignified, even in horrible situations that would have broken a lesser man. In Morgan's Run, McCullough has created an epic drama rivaled only by her own bestsellers. But she has also interwoven throughout the story a detailed and precise history of life in England during the American Revolution, as well as the beginnings of the foundling nation of Australia. And, amazingly enough, though much of the book dwells on the hardships endured by Morgan, there are also moments of joy and beauty. Romance can be found in the oddest places, and McCullough includes moments of passion among the grief and heartaches of life. In her author's notes, McCullough explains that the real Richard Morgan is the four-times great-grandfather of her husband, and that she found his story fascinating. Readers will find themselves agreeing with her, as they follow his unforgettable journey in Morgan's Run.

Sharon Galligar Chance is the senior book reviewer for the Times Record News in Wichita Falls, Texas.

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