March 10, 2013

Book Review: The Midwife's Tale

York, England, in 1644, is a dangerous place. Parliament's armies have laid siege to the city, while the King's adherents are fighting back. In addition to the war, everyday life is difficult enough--as midwife Bridget Hodgson knows all too well. She struggles to deliver babies and save mothers' lives, but she isn't always successful.

Then Esther Cooper is arrested for the murder of her husband. The Lord Mayor asks Bridget to examine Esther's body; he thinks she's guilty and wants to burn her at the stake, but he can't, because she is claiming to be pregnant. Bridget has two days to prove her friend's innocence. She and her servant Martha (who is suspiciously good with knives and lock picks), set out to try and find out who else could have wanted Stephen Cooper dead--a list, they discover, that includes leading citizens across York's political spectrum.

While investigating on Esther's behalf, Bridget and Martha also keep busy delivering babies, examining women who are accused of being pregnant out of wedlock and avoiding a violent man from Martha's past.

Sam Thomas's debut offers an amazing amount of information about 17th-century midwifery and daily life in a Puritanical society. But the details never bog down the absorbing mystery, and Bridget's determined character shines through. The Midwife's Tale is a fascinating book that historians and mystery readers will both love.

I liked The Midwife's Tale because it wasn't set in London, as so much historical fiction is. And I enjoyed Bridget's character and curiosity and intrepidity. (Is that a real word?)

I was fascinated by a lot of the history; for example: did you know that midwives weren't allowed to help deliver babies of unmarried women unless they'd named the father? Midwives just sat and watched women struggling to deliver alone until they confessed their partner in "crime". Crazy. Anyway, I highly recommend this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Should I recommend it to my grandma? Sure. There are some mentions of rape/violence, but nothing graphic. I originally wrote most of this review for Shelf Awareness. The links are affiliate links.

Do you like historical mysteries?