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The Midwife's Tale: A Mystery Paperback – December 10, 2013
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It is 1644, and civil war has erupted in York, England. The Parliament’s armies have revolted against the king and laid siege to the city, but midwife Bridget Hodgson still has babies to deliver. She soon finds an even bigger problem. Her friend Esther Cooper has been convicted of murdering her husband. She will burn at the stake if the real killer is not found. Bridget and her servant, Martha Hawkins, set out to save Esther. Martha has street smarts and excellent knife skills. The two women begin investigating while keeping clear of the rebel artillery and confronting an evil figure from Martha’s past. They find that Esther’s husband, an ostentatious Puritan, had a very sinister secret life. Moving from the dank alleys of the poor neighborhoods to the mansions of the rich, Bridget and Esther capture a brutal killer and find that traitors are often tyrants. The author is a historian, and his period detail creates a vivid atmosphere. The strong female characters and action-packed plot will please historical-mystery readers. --Barbara Bibel --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“A determined midwife must solve a murder to save a friend from a horrible end. . . . Historian Thomas' fiction debut is packed with fascinating information about a midwife's skills and life during the English civil war. The ingenious, fast-paced mystery is a bonus.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Everything rings true in historian Thomas's superb first mystery. . . . Authentic details of life in 17th-century York complement the whodunit's intelligently concealed clues.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Thomas' York teems with filthy streets and bawdy wine-soaked revelries. But nothing is more drenched in bloody, breathing realism than Bridget's life, and career. . . . Thomas does an admirable job keeping all of these balls aloft. He concludes with a satisfying twist that few readers will see coming. But as pleasurable as his mystery is, the true thrill here is Thomas' lively portrait of 1644 York and his unique heroine.” ―Cleveland Plain Dealer
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Top Customer Reviews
The character list is also quite unique. There is the previously stated Lady Hodgson, but it is her maidservant's dubious background that has you turning pages. Then there's the villainous Lady Hooke and her neutered husband and son. I sincerely hope they come back and get their just due in the book 2 or 3. Lorenzo Bacca, the Papist Italian, is another intriguing character that I picture in my head looking like a cross between Jafar from Aladin and Anton Ego from Ratatouille (I realize animated Disney films make for odd character visions, but hey, what are you gonna do?) Then there's the jailer Samuel Short and the orphan Tree. Both are intriguing characters that I hope show up again in later installments. There are a host of other characters, including brothers, uncles, and nephews, as well as the very interesting gossips that appear at every birth and seem to only serve to annoy or aggravate the mother-to-be in the midst of her "travail."
In all the book is extremely readable; it's written in a first person, linear, narrative style, almost like a diary or journal. The period language is accessible and logically used so that the reader can discern the meaning without the author compromising the integrity of the conversations. It's not too long, at just over 300 pages, and each chapter is paced to keep you wanting to read but still creating points where you can put it down and go to bed (something I am thankful for).
I am anxiously awaiting the Harlot's Tale in early 2014.
I was particularly struck by the strange pacing - the whole book seemed to fly by but the tempo was off. There was no build-up of suspense or careful tracking of clues. There was a flurry of murders and then a resolution. I picked up the book largely for its' time and setting - English historical mysteries are almost always set in London and since my ancestors lived in Yorkshire during this era, I thought it would be fun to read. Unfortunately, there was no real sense of place - just one awkward expository conversation when the two lead characters talk about the layout of the city.
I was also interested in the concept of a mystery unfolding inside a city under siege and the tension between Royalist and Parliamentarian forces. An author like C.J. Sansom would know how to inject a lingering sense of dread in his characters and make the siege itself a character. There were large chunks of this book when the characters seemed to completely forget their own situation and then mention it out of the blue - as if Thomas suddenly remembered that he needed to keep that plot point going.
As many readers have noted, the information about midwives is one of the more entertaining parts of the book and I enjoyed learning about this element of 17th century life. Thomas was also quite good at not making his lead character too modern - she often remarks in passing on beliefs and values that seem odd and outdated to modern readers.
I don't think The Midwife's Tale is a bad book by any means but I certainly wouldn't encourage readers to seek it out when there are so many other good historical mystery series out there.