The Midwife and the Assassin (Midwife's Tale)
by Sam Thomas
Cover Artist: Woman by Stephen Mulcahey / Arangel Images;
City by Jarek Blaminsky / Arcangel Images.
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
St. Martin's Griffin Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250096685
Date: 15 November 2016 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
NOTE: This review first appeared in our June 2016 issue.
In 1648, Lady Bridget Hodgson travels to the Tower of London to free her imprisoned nephew, Will Hodgson. An evil man, Mr. Marlowe, is the chief intelligencer for Oliver Cromwell; he forces Bridget and her deputy, Martha Hawkins, to become spies in exchange for Will's freedom. Pretending to be the poor Widow Hodgson, Bridget befriends Katherine and Daniel Chidley who belong to the radical Levellers. The Levellers believe all men and women are created equal and have the right to vote and choose their own politicians and clergymen. While Bridget is spying on the Levellers, one of her friends is murdered by an assassin. During her subsequent investigation, she discovers a plot that will slaughter thousands of innocent people and trigger a civil war.
Sam Thomas's The Midwife and the Assassin is the most riveting, most harrowing novel in the Midwife Mystery Series. In the last novel, The Witch Hunter's Tale, Bridget is forced to leave the city of York and return to her provincial life in the village of Pontrilas. Now, after having been stripped of her class status as a lady of wealth and refinement, she must endure the lowly status of a common housewife in the hustle and bustle of one of the world's largest cities, London. Bridget experiences culture shock upon arriving in London, a melting pot reminding me of New York City during its infancy. London is not a clean city; there is the lingering stench of horse manure in the streets. Readers will visit the infamous Tower of London as well as many taverns and brothels. Once again, Bridget serves as a midwife and quickly develops a good reputation at being one.
In fact, the first birthing that Bridget and Martha attend is one of the most gruesome, most bizarre in their careers. The pregnant mother, a midwife herself, is charged with murder. With Will's assistance, Bridget and Martha must visit numerous brothels during their investigation to save the mother from the hangman's noose. Solving this mystery secures their future careers as midwives and allows them to become close friends of Katherine, another midwife, upon whom they are to spy. During this entire time, Bridget suffers a moral dilemma. With each passing day, she grows to respect Katherine and her controversial beliefs while hating herself for gathering information that could be used to destroy her friend. However, Bridget realizes that the treacherous Mr. Marlowe has practically enslaved her with his threats of having all of her possessions confiscated by Oliver Cromwell.
Bridget has been plunged into a nightmare. She lives in a filthy, tiny apartment with one rickety bed that she must share with Martha. She doesn't know who to trust; spies are everywhere. (Bridget learns that spies are spying on the spies.) There is a tremendous amount of political strife. King Charles has been arrested and could literally lose his head if found guilty of treason. Indeed, this is a barbaric age and the author does an excellent job at making me feel as if I am living there. To make matters worse, Bridget misses her headstrong twelve-year-old daughter, Elizabeth; she was forced to leave her behind in Pontrilas. Mr. Marlowe refuses to allow Elizabeth to visit London. However, on a brighter note, Bridget is falling in love with Colonel Tom Reynolds who is also one of Mr. Marlowe's victims. Tom and Bridget share a history of pain and suffering from having lost family members; Tom lost a son and wife to war and Bridget lost a husband and two children to illness.
I have enjoyed Sam Thomas's best-selling Midwife Mystery Series ever since it debuted with The Midwife's Tale. I've always been fascinated with the seedier, darker side of Puritan life. His novels take readers down the portion of Oz's yellow brick road that leads through the dark forest of harlots, witches and assassins. Oh my! Never has Bridget and her friends been in more danger and peril. I read the last one-hundred pages in one sitting; I couldn't put it down until I discovered the true identity of the assassin. There are numerous red herrings and strange twists. On several occasions, I thought the assassin had been identified and the rest of the novel would dwell on Tom and Bridget's budding romance, but I was wrong. The actual assassin isn't identified until nearly the very end and I never would have guessed in a million years. I can't wait to discover what evil villains Lady Bridget Hodgson will battle in the next installment of the Midwife Mystery Series.