I have a confession to make: I will read anything involving a midwife. I find the the subject of midwifery fascinating and will even pepper my friend Stacy (who is a midwife) with question after question about her work and all the different scenarios that she sees day to day. Reading this book was a no-brainer for me, and though the book’s ratio of midwifery to mystery was about 40/60, I still had a great time following Lady Hodgeson and Martha’s adventures in pursuit of justice. I think that the author is very talented, for he seems to really understand the minds and dogged determination of women, and at times I had difficulty believing that this book was indeed penned by a male. It was a tale full of corruption and torpor, but there was a deep humor and an unexpected amount of twists and turns to the tale as well.
Lady Hodgeson is a woman who brooks no nonsense, and when Martha shows up at her door, her internal skepticism and curiosity are mingled with her humanity and sense of decency. She hires Martha on the spot and begins to train her to be her assistant and new housekeeper. It’s through the careful undulation of the plot that the reader begins to see that Martha has pulled the wool over Lady Hodgeson’s eyes, and this situation doesn’t last for long. When the truth is revealed, Lady Hodgeson carefully weighs the options and chooses to stick with the duplicitous woman, and her choice later reaps full reward when Martha turns out to be both capable and valuable in teasing out information and helping Lady Hodgeson gain admittance to places that she normally would be barred from. Martha is indeed a lady of incredible skill, and with the right tutelage, she becomes very useful indeed.
When Martha and Lady Hodgeson discover that Esther is to be burned at the stake for the murder of her husband, something doesn’t compute with the midwife, and she takes the investigation into her own hands, despite strong warnings from her family and agents of the King. But Lady Hodgeson will not be fobbed off, and soon she is embroiled deeply into the shady life of Esther’s dead husband, a man whose Puritanical leanings were severe and perhaps even savage. Lady Hodgeson will not let this matter drop, though she is pressured, cajoled and even threatened, and her insistence coupled with her insolence mires the two women ever deeper into the claws of a set of sinister secrets. Meanwhile, both the affluent and destitute women of the city are clamoring for her attentions as a midwife, and she must juggle the two pursuits without dropping either one.
This is a story full of secrets, and though it seems impossible, Lady Hodgeson is like a dog on a scent for information, uncovering deeply disturbing plots and schemes that swirl around Esther and make her look decidedly guilty. But Lady Hodgeson suspects that this is not so, when even Martha is sure that Esther is to blame. The atmosphere of the tale is one of myriad conspiracy and complicity all wound around the dirty and crowded streets of King Charles’ domain. Edgy and fast-paced, the tale ignites the imagination and kept me questioning until the very end, when all is revealed in a rather shocking and believable manner. I was wound tight as a spring trying to figure it all out ahead of Lady Hodgeson, but the author’s talent at pulling the rug out from under the reader’s feet was too great, and I was not able to predict the ending to this story.
If historical fiction is not your bag but you love mysteries or midwifery, I would tell you to jump on this book quickly. If you are a lover of historical fiction, this is a natural winner that will keep you up at night devouring secret after secret until the final page seems to turn effortlessly in your hands. I loved this book—not only for its unpredictability, but for its originality in characterization and plot, and I feel that others who take a chance on this one will feel the same. An excellent work of fiction, to be sure. Highly recommended.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.