Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.
The Harlot's Tale (2013)
by Sam Thomas
No current Talk conversations about this book.
New author Sam Thomas has introduced Lady Bridget Hodgson, a devout and determine midwife of 17th century York, to the roster of medieval and early modern sleuths in "The Midwife’s Tale" and "The Harlot’s Tale." More entries are sure to follow these two, and that’s a very good thing.
Mr. Thomas uses his academic background to evoke the York milieu of the middle of the 17th century. He covers: the squalor cheek-by-jowl with the posh neighborhoods, the multitude of parish churches in a city of relatively modest population, and the importance of religious observances in everyday life. In The Harlot’s Tale especially, Mr. Thomas presents the high tension between the Puritan impulse and the more traditional Protestant sects.
This is, in fact, one quibble I have with the narrative of Harlot’s Tale: it focuses too much on peoples’ preoccupation with how to fear and cajole their God. Yes, the theme of righteousness and hypocrisy figures very large here, but there is also such things as relief, contrast, and nuance to give a book depth and variability. And I want also to address those special features of a mystery – clues, subtle indicators of guilt or innocence, the sleuth’s deductive powers – Mr. Thomas’s handling of these needs refinement. Lady Hodgson solves crime with her small posse, her maidservant Martha (easily the series’ most appealing character) and her nephew Will. They work cooperatively toward answers and next steps, but Lady Bridget needs to take control more and start to outthink her think tank.
For my money, there can never be too many medieval mystery series. There is a lot of potential here for Sam Thomas’s midwife. He needs, however, to tighten up his mystery processes, and make Lady Bridget smarter than your average crimebuster.
The backstory: Last year I read and adored The Midwife's Tale, Sam Thomas's debut mystery.
The basics: The story opens in August 1645, the year after the events of The Midwife's Tale. York is battling a brutal heatwave and adjusting to life with Puritan control. A new minister, Hezekiah Ward, has arrived in town, preaching about the evils of prostitution, just as much of the city believes the heat is God's punishment for evil. When the bodies of a prostitue and a john are found brutally murdered, Bridget's brother-in-law calls her in to view the bodies. Once again, her skills as a midwife find a crime-solving purpose.
My thoughts: Once again I was delighted with the characters of Bridget and Martha, her servant and midwife apprentice. The relationship of the two women is one of my favorite parts of this series. As Bridget teaches Martha more about midwifing, the reader learns with her. There are numerous births throughout this mystery, but I also appreciate how Thomas uses the story to teach more about the less expected aspects of midwifery:
"This was the darker side of service as a midwife. Most of our labor went into delivering mothers and infants, but constables and Justices also called upon us in more desperate situations. Midwives bore the burden of examining the wasted bodies of children who had been bewitched, and those of infants left to die under a haystack."
It's this darker side of service that draws Bridget and Martha into the murders. As a midwife, Bridget has unparalleled access to information. In this case, the class differences between Bridget and Martha also aid in their solving of the crime. Because Bridget is a lady, there are people who will only speak to her, but there are also people who cannot fathom speaking to a lady about matters of prostitution and murder.
Beyond Bridget and Martha, their motley crew of family and friends continues to delight. This broad cast of characters are a wonderful antidote to the often dark tone of this novel, and I look forward to these relationships continuing to develop in future books.
The mysteries at the heart of this novel were indeed fascinating, but I wished for more red herrings and actual mystery. While the resolution was quite satisfying, the mystery itself was not as engaging throughout the book as the other plot points were.
The verdict: The Harlot's Tale is a wonderful continuation of The Midwife's Tale. Thomas masterfully constructs the world of York in the 1600's, and the depth of this world and his characters more make up for the less intense moments of the mystery.
I love historical mysteries, and THE HARLOT'S TALE is easily one of my favorites. This is the second book in Sam Thomas' Midwife Mysteries series, and the story picks up about a year after Parliamentarians won the city of York during the English Civil War. Puritanism is on the rise, and with it comes a fanatical preacher named Hezekiah Ward. In his sermons, Ward targets the prostitutes of the city, saying their sin is the reason God is punishing York with unbearable heat and drought. Their evil ways must be stopped. It is God's will.
Lady Bridget Hodgson is a respected midwife, wealthy gentlewoman, and sister-in-law to a powerful man in government. Her occupation and station gives her more influence than most women of her day. When a string of gruesome murders takes place, all of the victims prostitutes or their "clients," Bridget's brother-in-law Edward calls on her to help with the investigation. When clues surface indicating one of the godly crowd may be the killer, Bridget must take care. The men in charge of the city are Puritans, and many share the same belief that York should be wiped clean of sinners and be an example for the rest of England.
There's so much I enjoyed about this book! First, the characters. They are engaging, well-drawn, and most importantly, realistic for their time. Bridget is clever, strong, and intelligent. As a wealthy widow, she's gained independence, though she understands the limitations society has put on her as a woman. Bridget's partners in mystery-solving are her savvy and headstrong assistant Martha, and her loyal, yet troubled nephew Will. Martha's sarcastic tongue had me snickering several times.
The mystery itself was fantastic. The pacing was fast, and there were several viable suspects. Just when I thought I had it figured out, another plot twist would change my line of thinking. I was so surprised by the ending! I love the author's engaging writing style and vivid descriptions of mid-17th century England. This book gave an eye-opening account of some absurd crime-solving techniques of that time, as well as an interesting look at midwifery and the women who practice it. Highly recommended!
Source: Review copy provided through NetGalley for participating in the author’s book tour.
"It is August, 1645, one year since York fell into Puritan hands. As the city suffers through a brutal summer heat, Bridget Hodgson and Martha Hawkins are drawn into a murder investigation more frightening than their last. In order to appease God's wrath--and end the heat-wave--the city's overlords have launched a brutal campaign to whip the city's sinners into godliness. But for someone in York, this is not enough. First a prostitute and her client are found stabbed to death, then a pair of adulterers are beaten and strangled. York's sinners have been targeted for execution. Bridget and Martha--assisted once again by Will, Bridget's good-hearted nephew--race to find the killer even as he adds more bodies to his tally. The list of suspects is long: Hezekiah Ward, a fire and brimstone preacher new to York; Ward's son, Praise-God, whose intensity mirrors his father's; John Stubb, one of Ward's fanatic followers, whose taste for blood may not have been sated by his time in Parliament's armies. Or could the killer be closer to home? Will's brother Joseph is no stranger to death, and he shares the Wards' dreams of driving sin from the city. To find the killer, Bridget, Martha, and Will must uncover the city's most secret sins, and hope against hope that the killer does not turn his attention in their direction"--
No library descriptions found.
Amazon Kindle (0 editions)
Audible (0 editions)
CD Audiobook (0 editions)
Project Gutenberg (0 editions)
Google Books — Loading...
Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.6 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 21st Century
Is this you?
Become a LibraryThing Author.
An edition of this book was published by Minotaur Books.
In Bridget Hodgson, Sam Thomas has created a memorable, true to life historical heroine. One of the things I like best about Thomas' characterization of Bridget is that her attitudes, beliefs and actions are consistent with her position in society and the time period in which she lived. One of my biggest pet peeves in historical fiction is characters who hold a modern world view. Neither Bridget nor any of the other characters in this novel have this problem and, as a result, they feel authentic. Another strength of this book is the historical detail, through which Thomas is able to bring 17th century York and its inhabitants to life. While the practice of midwifery and its attendant customs aren't as prominent in The Harlot's Tale as they were in the first book, they do play a part in the story, which should satisfy readers who found the midwifery to be one of the most interesting aspects of The Midwife's Tale. For my part, I enjoyed learning more about the nature of the religious tensions that existed in cities and towns such as York, which by 1645 had fallen into the hands of the Puritans, many of whom had little tolerance for those whose views did not match their own. As I'm not overly familiar with the English Civil War, this book provided me with insight into the opinions and beliefs held by those who lived through it.
While the characters and historical detail are big reasons why I enjoyed this novel, I also found the mystery itself to be a compelling one. On several occasions I thought I had figured the murders out and identified the perpetrator only to be proven wrong. As a result, the ultimate resolution ended up surprising me. I also enjoyed learning of some of the ways in which a potential perpetrator could be "proven" guilty.
I highly recommend The Harlot's Tale to anyone who enjoys mystery novels, historical or otherwise. I can't wait to see where Thomas takes Bridget Hodgson next!
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. ( )