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The Harlot's Tale (Midwife's Mystery) by Sam Thomas
Cover Artist: John Foley / Arcangel Images
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250010780
Date: 07 January 2014 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

York, England, 1645, is gripped by a deadly heat wave. The clergy proclaim that God's judgment has fallen upon the city because of its tolerance towards whores. A fanatical, half-blind minister, Hezekiah Ward, and his family condemns whores while standing at street intersections and inside churches and taverns, wherever they can gather an audience. Soon whores are found brutally butchered. Lady Bridget Hodgson, with the assistance of her servant, Martha Hawkins, and her clubfooted nephew, Will Hodgson, is determined to find those responsible for the ghastly murders and have them hanged.

I had a lot of fun reading Sam Thomas's superb historical mystery, The Harlot's Tale--perhaps too much fun. If you are offended by the word "whore" then you shouldn't read this novel. It is used liberally throughout its fast-paced plot. I laughed out loud each time I read "whore" or "whoremonger" or "whoremaster". The title may consist of the word "harlot" but I can't recall ever finding it in the text. I suppose customers wouldn't buy a novel titled, The Whore's Tale. Nevertheless, fans of historical mysteries are going to love this novel, the second one in a series. In fact, I enjoyed this one more than the series' debut, The Midwife's Tale.

Many characters from The Midwife's Tale, both righteous and evil, have returned for The Harlot's Tale. The most unusual, noteworthy ones consist of the fanatical Ward family. Hezekiah and Dorothy Ward have named their daughter "Silence" and their son "Praise-God". One might describe them as a Medieval, self-righteous, dysfunctional family that is obsessed with whores. This family, the reader will learn, has a lot of serious issues that a team of psychiatrists couldn't cure. Next, we have a wealthy bawd (madam), Helen Wright, who rents a lot of property to whores. There are also numerous godly men who are quite large and strong, having served in the military, who are understandably suspected of having killed the whores.

Throughout the novel, characters are accusing each other of self-righteousness and hypocrisy. The novel's heroine, Lady Bridget Hodgson, appears to be one of the guiltiest offenders even though she won't admit it. Living in a class system, she insists that everyone treat her with the respect that her wealth and position merit. She doesn't like it when Dorothy Ward and Helen Wright speak to her as though they were her equals. Bridget lauds her position over everyone, never letting them forget she is a gentlewoman. Someone needs to teach her that Christians should be humble and suffer humility. However, because I don't want to be accused of self-righteousness, I'll not write another unkind word about her.

Lady Bridget Hodgson has not led a fairy-tale life. She has buried two children and two husbands and, like many who have lost loved ones, she questions whether or not God hears her prayers. I think what she is asking is whether or not He answers our prayers. This is where faith and understanding play an important role. Life on this planet is temporal; it is merely a testing ground to prepare us for the eternal one that is yet to come. When will this new world come? In Medieval York, as it is in today's society, many are speculating that it may be soon. Historical mysteries always make me realize that mankind has not changed throughout the centuries. Our environment changes, but our sinful nature never does. We still continue to hate, judge and condemn those around us who are different.

Historical mysteries also make me glad I live in the 21st Century, mainly because of medical advancements. (I'd be dead without them.) The peaceful, quiet days of Yesteryear never existed. We should be happy living in the here and now. Reading exciting, suspenseful mysteries like The Harlot's Tale makes me very happy. This novel's violence is more graphic and gruesome than its predecessor, The Midwife's Tale. It also has a high body count that reminded me of many horror movies from my youth. I had to use a notebook to keep track of the corpses as they piled up like the snow outside my apartment. Sam Thomas's The Harlot's Wife kept me very entertained while I was snowbound these past three days. It would be a grievous sin if fans of historical mysteries didn't read this unforgettable series.

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