Book Review: THE HARLOT’S TALE by Sam Thomas #HarlotsTaleTour

The Harlot's Tale
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.

Links: Goodreads | LibraryThing | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

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.

For more information, please visit Sam Thomas’ website and blog.  You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Book Review: THE MIDWIFE’S TALE by Sam Thomas

Publisher: Minotaur Books
Released: January 8, 2013
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★★★½

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.

From the first line, THE MIDWIFE’S TALE grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. This absorbing historical mystery is set during the English Civil War when the city of York was under siege. The widow Bridget Hodgson is a well-respected and influential midwife, and though there is heaving fighting all around, her important work in the city continues.

Bridget receives the shocking news that her friend Esther Cooper has been accused of murdering her husband, and after a sham trial, she’s sentenced to be burned at the stake. Believing that Esther could not have done this, Bridget, along with her new maidservant Martha, sets out to prove her innocence. Bridget soon learns that despite her high station and influence, meddling in the affairs of powerful men is a very dangerous game.

THE MIDWIFE’S TALE is a beautifully written debut novel that I greatly enjoyed. Mr. Thomas created two strong and clever female characters in Bridget and Martha, and I loved watching their friendship develop. The secondary characters were well-drawn too, each one contributing to the intrigue of the story.

This book captured the political upheaval and historical details of daily life at that time. It also provided a fascinating look at midwifery in 17th century England. I was unaware of how far a midwife’s duties went and the laws she was subject to. So interesting!

I was very impressed with Mr. Thomas’ first book, and I’m looking forward to more.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.