Series: Midwife Mysteries, #2
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Released: January 7, 2014
Source: Review copy provided through NetGalley for participating in the author’s book tour.
It is August, 1645, one year since York fell into Puritan hands. As the city suffers through a brutal summer heat, Bridget Hodgson and Martha Hawkins are drawn into a murder investigation more frightening than their last. In order to appease God’s wrath—and end the heat-wave—the city’s overlords have launched a brutal campaign to whip the city’s sinners into godliness. But for someone in York, whipping is not enough. First a prostitute and her client are found stabbed to death, then a pair of adulterers are beaten and strangled. York’s sinners have been targeted for execution.
Bridget and Martha—assisted once again by Will, Bridget’s good-hearted nephew—race to find the killer even as he adds more bodies to his tally. The list of suspects is long: Hezekiah Ward, a fire and brimstone preacher new to York; Ward’s son, Praise-God, whose intensity mirrors his father’s; John Stubb, one of Ward’s fanatic followers, whose taste for blood may not have been sated by his time in Parliament’s armies. Or could the killer be closer to home? Will’s brother Joseph is no stranger to death, and he shares the Wards’ dreams of driving sin from the city.
To find the killer, Bridget, Martha, and Will must uncover the city’s most secret sins, and hope against hope that the killer does not turn his attention in their direction.
I love historical mysteries, and THE HARLOT’S TALE is easily one of my favorites. This is the second book in Sam Thomas’ Midwife Mysteries series, and the story picks up about a year after Parliamentarians won the city of York during the English Civil War. Puritanism is on the rise, and with it comes a fanatical preacher named Hezekiah Ward. In his sermons, Ward targets the prostitutes of the city, saying their sin is the reason God is punishing York with unbearable heat and drought. Their evil ways must be stopped. It is God’s will.
Lady Bridget Hodgson is a respected midwife, wealthy gentlewoman, and sister-in-law to a powerful man in government. Her occupation and station gives her more influence than most women of her day. When a string of gruesome murders takes place, all of the victims prostitutes or their “clients,” Bridget’s brother-in-law Edward calls on her to help with the investigation. When clues surface indicating one of the godly crowd may be the killer, Bridget must take care. The men in charge of the city are Puritans, and many share the same belief that York should be wiped clean of sinners and be an example for the rest of England.
There’s so much I enjoyed about this book! First, the characters. They are engaging, well-drawn, and most importantly, realistic for their time. Bridget is clever, strong, and intelligent. As a wealthy widow, she’s gained independence, though she understands the limitations society has put on her as a woman. Bridget’s partners in mystery-solving are her savvy and headstrong assistant Martha, and her loyal, yet troubled nephew Will. Martha’s sarcastic tongue had me snickering several times.
The mystery itself was fantastic. The pacing was fast, and there were several viable suspects. Just when I thought I had it figured out, another plot twist would change my line of thinking. I was so surprised by the ending! I love the author’s engaging writing style and vivid descriptions of mid-17th century England. This book gave an eye-opening account of some absurd crime-solving techniques of that time, as well as an interesting look at midwifery and the women who practice it. Highly recommended!
Rating: 5 Stars
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the book tour company in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author:
Sam Thomas is an assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library, and the British Academy. He has published articles on topics ranging from early modern Britain to colonial Africa. Thomas lives in Alabama with his wife and two children.