March 12, 2014

Book Review: The Harlot's Tale by Sam Thomas

In The Harlot's Tale, Sam Thomas returns to 1645 York, England, and the courageous investigations of midwife Bridget Hodgson (introduced in 2013's The Midwife's Tale). With the help of her obstreperous maid, Martha, Lady Hodgson is busy delivering babies--while trying to please the increasingly strict Puritan city government--until her brother-in-law, a York alderman, asks her to look at the body of a woman brutally murdered along with her lover.

Lady Hodgson and Martha discover that the woman had been horribly mutilated; in her hand, they find a slip of paper with a Bible verse referring to whores. They're shocked to realize that the killer seems to be twisting scripture to suit his needs--and they're even more appalled when the bodies begin piling up.

The murders inflame tensions in the city, as Puritan preachers begin speaking of the deaths as God's judgment on the city for its sinful ways. Most of the city leaders are dismissive of the deaths of mere prostitutes, but Lady Hodgson (with the help of Martha and her nephew Will) is determined to find the killer and bring him to justice.

The Harlot's Tale brings the squalid living conditions of 17th-century York to life. The descriptions of the town's primitive medical care and its narrow-minded people are equally appalling. Readers will keep guessing about the mystery until the end as Lady Hodgson, Will and Martha frantically try to find the truth. And the shocking denouement will make the anticipation for the next midwife mystery even greater.

I liked this book, and thought that the mystery was probably better than that of The Midwife's Tale. But my petty irritation is that the title is 'The Harlot's Tale' -- but they don't use the word harlot in the book! The whole book all the Puritan preachers and Bridget and even the prostitutes themselves use the word whore. I have a feeling the publisher was like, "We can't call a book 'The Whore's Tale'!" I just wish they'd made the text match a bit.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Maybe. There's some rather serious mutilation to the, ahem, "privities" of the dead women, as Lady Bridget delicately phrases it...

Have you read Sam Thomas? 
Or any other Puritan mysteries?

I originally wrote most of this review for Shelf Awareness. And the post contains a few of my affiliate links.