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The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas
Cover Artist: Photo of Woman by John Foley / Arcangel Images
Photo of Table by Irina Press
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250010766
Date: 08 January 2013 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Read an excerpt / Show Official Info /

Lady Bridget Hodgson delivers babies in Medieval York, England, 1644. Widowed twice and having lost both of her children to mysterious fevers, she is a wealthy, educated gentlewoman who is trying hard to maintain her Christian faith in a city besieged by war, superstition and moral decay. One of her best friends, Esther Cooper, has been arrested for poisoning her merchant husband, Stephen, with ratsbane. Esther will be burned at the stake unless Bridget can discover the killer's identity. Bridget soon finds herself the enemy of many men who detested Stephen for his political viewpoints.

Sam Thomas' excellent debut, The Midwife's Tale, was a shocking surprise. I expected a cozy historical mystery involving a sweet, passive heroine who is courted by several suitors as she unravels a mundane mystery. Instead, I found a gritty, violent story of one woman's struggle to survive in a harsh environment where females are viewed as second class citizens and servants are treated not much better than slaves. Pigs and other livestock freely roam the filth-strewn streets and the rivers stink of rotting corpses and untreated sewage. It is no wonder many citizens died of plagues during the Middle Ages. Furthermore, there is a war between the rebels and the Royalists. Cannonballs are being shot into the city, killing and maiming people and destroying homes. Medieval York is a virtual hell.

The Midwife's Tale is a fast-paced novel replete with violence, human drama and mystery. It introduces the new detective team of Lady Bridget Hodgson and her maid, the impoverished Martha Hawkins. The latter has run away from Bridget's hometown of Hereford and is hiding a lot of secrets, some of which will put them both in danger. These strong-willed women have much in common. Primarily, they have suffered from the deaths of their young children. Tragedy has made Martha lose her faith in God whereas Bridget has clung tightly to hers. Nevertheless, Bridget, like many Christians who have suffered loss, has questioned God's will in allowing her tragedies to occur.

This novel, along with many other historical mysteries I have read, makes me appreciate the medical advances of the twenty-first century. If I ever yearn for a "more simple life", I must remember novels like this one and realize that life, since the dawn of mankind, has never been simple. Life, no matter the time period, has been, and always will be, fraught with dangers, both seen and unseen. Bridget sometimes wonders if she is living in the last days as spoken of in the book of Revelation. Christians living in the present sometimes wonder the same thing. Therefore, it is always in your best interest to have someone who can share the good times with you in the present and stand next to you when facing an unknown future.

Bridget and Martha stand together, undaunted, when trying to find Stephen Cooper's killer. The killer's identity surprised me. Bridget proves herself to be an excellent sleuth as well as a good midwife who tends to numerous deliveries throughout the novel. I learned a lot about medieval gynecology and that York, like today, was experiencing a great deal of illegitimate births. Some of Bridget's methods for convincing pregnant women to reveal the identity of the baby's father bordered on inhuman cruelty. As stated earlier, women were treated harshly. They didn't have many job opportunities other than being a wife or a prostitute. The language in this novel was sometimes crude, making it unsuitable for children and young teens.

Fans of historical mysteries, especially those set in the Middle Ages, should definitely read The Midwife's Tale. After reading it, I can understand why this brutal period in our planet's history was also referred to as the Dark Ages. Ignorance, injustice and amorality reigned. Poor Esther was going to burn at the stake without a fair trial. However, throughout the story's nightmarish turn of events, Bridget remains steadfast to her calling of being a good midwife, a good friend, a good aunt, and a good Christian. A pillar of light, she proves, like so many other heroines, that though we may not be able to prevent horrible tragedies from befalling us, we can learn to overcome them through the strength we find in ourselves and in our belief in God.

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