The Witch Hunter's Tale (The Midwife's Tale)
by Sam Thomas
Cover Artist: Woman by John Foley / Arcangel Images;
Building by Elizabeth Ansley / Trevillion Images;
Envelope by Audrey Kuzmin / Shutterstock
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250070371
Date: 15 December 2015 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Note: This review originally appeared in our March 2015 issue and is of the hardcover edition.
In York, England, 1645, the evil Joseph Hodgson declares himself a witch finder, determined to seek and execute all witches. George Breary, Head of the Council, wishes to stop him. He enlists the aid of Joseph's aunt, the midwife Lady Bridget Hodgson. George is bludgeoned to death in a dark ally and the bloody witch hunt commences. Joseph threatens to slaughter everyone in Bridget's family if she doesn't cooperate with him.
The Witch Hunter's Tale is the most intriguing mystery yet in Sam Thomas's Midwife Mystery Series (following The Harlot's Tale and the superb debut, The Midwife's Tale). A plague of evil has invaded York. It is worse than anything viral. Once again, the powerful are preying on the weak. Fueled by gossip, bitterness and hatred, the witch hunt spreads like wildfire as it engulfs the entire city, threatening to kill dozens of innocent people, including children.
I found it very sad and disconcerting that the witch hunt in The Witch Hunter's Tale is based on actual events. It is utterly unbelievable that humans could be cruel enough to prey on the elderly, handicapped, and the young. The novel emphasizes the harsh, filthy realities of prison life. Many prisoners died of disease while awaiting trial. Everyone who is accused of witchcraft is severely beaten until they confess they are a witch. Because they are often mentally ill, victims become delusional and often believe they must be witches.
Once again, as with the previous novels, the difficulties of childbearing are brought into play. From the births that Bridget assists, readers learn how easy and quickly a woman or baby can perish. Praise God for modern medicine; most of us wouldn't be alive if not for it. Speaking of God, Bridget still mourns the deaths of her two young children, Birdy and Michael; a part of her questions the existence of God. I see this questioning in many characters who have suffered tragedies. In the past, I have had my own doubts and fears; I think the most devout Christians sometimes experience them. I remind myself that this is a fallen world and it is only temporary.
Bridget must rely heavily on her faith in this novel because her entire family is in danger of death. Some are hauled away, accused of witchcraft, while others flee for their lives and go into hiding. Once again, Bridget must seek help from the wealthy Madame, Helen Wright, and her servant, Stephen Daniels. They become closer friends. For the first time, Bridget must also rely on the power of the written word as distributed in the form of booklets by Peter Newcome, who performs the dual role of merchant (chapman) and reporter.
Witches are on trial in The Witch Hunter's Tale but what is also on trial is moral absolutism. For example, according to the Bible, it is a sin to lie. However, if your lies will save a loved one from death, then it is not a sin to lie. Bridget's psyche or soul is forever wounded by some of the choices she is forced to make. One may say she murders or lies in self-defense. I believe that if evil people are determined to destroy me, then they don't deserve to hear the truth.
Sam Thomas has created an utterly disturbing morality tale that is rife with murder, mystery, and intrigue. It is a fast-paced nightmare ride through 17th century England during the height of the witch hunting frenzy; it turned neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, and relative against relative. Lovers of historical mysteries and the occult will definitely want to read The Witch Hunter's Tale. The novel ends on a dismal, somber note, which makes me wonder if there will be a sequel. I can only hope there will be one because I find Lady Bridget Hodgson to be an utterly fascinating heroine.