Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Midwife's Tale by Samuel Thomas

In the tradition of Arianna Franklin and C. J. Sansom comes Samuel Thomas’s remarkable debut, The Midwife’s Tale.

It is 1644, and Parliament’s armies have risen against the King and laid siege to the city of York. Even as the city suffers at the rebels’ hands, midwife Bridget Hodgson becomes embroiled in a different sort of rebellion. One of Bridget’s friends, Esther Cooper, has been convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to be burnt alive. Convinced that her friend is innocent, Bridget sets out to find the real killer.

Bridget joins forces with Martha Hawkins, a servant who’s far more skilled with a knife than any respectable woman ought to be. To save Esther from the stake, they must dodge rebel artillery, confront a murderous figure from Martha’s past, and capture a brutal killer who will stop at nothing to cover his tracks. The investigation takes Bridget and Martha from the homes of the city’s most powerful families to the alleyways of its poorest neighborhoods. As they delve into the life of Esther’s murdered husband, they discover that his ostentatious Puritanism hid a deeply sinister secret life, and that far too often tyranny and treason go hand in hand.

Author Samuel Thomas has written a fascinating whodunit about a courageous midwife who plies her trade in 17thcentury England in the midst of a civil war. Deep in the heart of York, Widow Bridget Hodgson is a savy, quick-witted midwife with a penchant for doing good. As a midwife, she holds power and prestige – giving evidence on issues of bastardy and infanticide. Her skills take her into the dredges of poverty and into the elegant salons of the wealthy. When she is ordered by the Mayor to declare a condemned woman not pregnant, Bridget staunchly refuses in order to buy more time to help clear the woman of murder charges she knows are untrue. With the aid of her feisty and secretive servant named Martha, the two set off on this murder investigation that soon turns into a dangerous enterprise.

The author did an exceptional job in recreating 17th century York, no surprise due to the fact he is a history professor and knowledgeable. This not only lends credence to the story, but makes it shine with vividness. Memorable characters like Martha, who is much more than what she first appears to be, and powerful Bridget, who is unafraid to confront trouble at every turn, make this a gripping read from start to finish. Well disguised clues throughout the story make it difficult to predict the fabulous, unpredictable twist at the end. 

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