Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Midwife’s Tale by Samuel Thomas — 320 pgs

In this page-turning and thrilling debut, Lady Bridget Hodgeson, a midwife living in 1644 London, must fight for the life of a dear friend who seems to have been set up for murder. As battles rage across the city between the King’s men and the Puritans, Lady Hodgeson plies her trade among both the rich and poor mothers to be. When news comes to her that her great friend Esther is accused of murdering her husband, Lady Hodgeson must become both midwife and investigator to prove her friend’s innocence. With the help of a new servant named Martha who has a very questionable background indeed, the two women get themselves embroiled in some of the most heinous and spirited danger—quite unusual in the life of a genteel and respected member of society. But as clues begin to pile up, it seems that Esther may have had more to hide than first believed, and in her efforts to free her friend, Lady Hodgeson finds herself rubbing many powerful people the wrong way. As the story moves forward with power and momentum, both Martha and Lady Hodgeson traipse all over the city, delivering babies to mothers in travail and uncovering more and more disturbing information. Before long, the women find themselves in terrible danger from all sides, but Lady Hodgeson refuses to give up despite several menacing warnings. Will Lady Hodgeson and Martha find the evidence they need to free Esther before her scheduled day of execution at the King’s hand, or will their prying be rewarded with violence and murder? Rich in atmosphere and incredible detail, The Midwife’s Tale captures the reader in the gritty London streets at a time when men carelessly engage in treason to satisfy their most base desires, and lies and truth can be bought and sold as a cheap commodities.

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.

19 comments:

Aarti said...

Wow, this sounds fantastic! I am a little tired of books that have titles like "The X's Tale," as it just seems lazy and it's easy to confuse all of them, but I think I could make an exception for this one :-)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds really great. I am not a fan of historical fiction unless there is a mystery/crime involved, so this sounds perfect!

bermudaonion said...

I'm on the fence about this one. I do like mysteries but struggle with historical fiction, especially from that time period. I do know a lot of people who would love it, though!

Literary Feline said...

This sounds so good! I love mysteries AND historical fiction. I haven't read too much about midwifery, but I have several books on my shelf that cover the topic--you'd think I'd have gotten to at least one by now . . .

Thank you for the amazing review, Heather!

Harvee Lau said...

Good to hear you enjoyed it as historical fiction and as a mystery. I will read this one soon for a book tour.

Mary (Bookfan) said...

I'm a historical fiction fan so this title is going on my TBR list. Thanks for telling us about it!!

Marie said...

Wow, sounds like a great combination of genres! GReat review today Heather- very intriguing!

Sandy Nawrot said...

An interesting choice to throw together midwifery, the 1600's and murder! I chuckle because while you are drawn to anything with a midwife, I kind of feel like I avoid anything to do with this choice of career. I have no idea why. But murder I can do. Hmmm...

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Somehow I missed this one. It does sound good. I also like stories involving midwifes.

Jenny said...

I haven't read much about midwives lately or much historical fiction, but both interest me, lol! This does sound intriguing.

Man of la Book said...

Sounds like a good book. Now that you say it, I also enjoy books about midwives.

http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

Suko said...

Oh, this sounds like my kind of book! Excellent review again! I read another review by a different book blogger about this book which is also glowing. (In fact, if you don't mind me mentioning this here, I've listed her giveaway for this book on the right side of my blog.)

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

I hadn't seen this one anywhere until your review, Heather, but now I'm definitely interested! You make it sound amazing.

Brooke said...

So many ppl are enjoying this book and knowing it now has your recommendation, I'm chomping at the bit! Love the unpredictable nature of the story and I've been on a mystery kick so this one holds a lot of promise!

Athira said...

I don't usually read historical fiction or mysteries, but I have been trying to change that this year. The mystery here seems very compelling, so I need to check this one out.

Darlene said...

I loved this book. As you know I'll read anything to do with midwifery as well so this was right up my alley. Glad you liked it as well.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

I so want to read this one!

Andi said...

This sounds like a lot of fun, and you know I'm down with the midwifery (reviewed Midwife of Hope River today). Great review, as always, Zibilee!

Elizabeth said...

This sounds really good! I will definitely keep an eye out for this one.

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