Amazon knows me well. The Midwife's Tale popped up in my suggestions last week on a day of particular ennui as I looked for a diversion. Thanks to one-click ordering and my iPad, the book was being consumed in about 1 minute.
As you might guess, the tale features a twice-widowed midwife, Lady Bridget Hodgson, who lives in York during the English Civil War. When a friend is sentenced to burn for killing her own husband (treason against the natural order!), Bridget investigates the murder; finding the real killer is the only way to overturn the conviction. Of course, she has to do this task in between deliveries while being female. Bridget's two marriages have left her wealthy, and a midwife learns a lot about people as she goes about the town of York. Elite men within the city, both those loyal to King Charles and those who favor Cromwell, give her more time and counsel than they might with other women. She could be useful.
I figured out the killer about the same time as Lady Hodgson and her collaborators, a club-footed nephew with a sword in his cane and her new maid who can pick a lock in nothing flat. The clues were scattered in the text, but so were red herrings that kept me guessing, even though the conclusion was completely plausible. I consider this the sign of a great mystery plot.
My favorite part actually came after the text in the author's note:
This book has its origin in the serendipitous discovery of a will written in 1683, for it was there I first met a York midwife named Bridget Hodgson, who provided a model for the fictional midwife in The Midwife’s Tale. These two Bridget Hodgsons have much in common: they were both wealthy gentlewomen; both lived in the parish of St. Helen’s, Stonegate; and both practiced midwifery. What attracted me to Bridget in the first place was that in her will, she defined herself by her profession, “midwife,” rather than her martial status, “widow.” I have read hundreds, if not thousands, of wills, and she is the only woman I found who did this. The historical Bridget also seems to have had a strength of character not often visible in the historical record, as she named her daughter and at least four of her godchildren after herself (Bridget Swain, Bridget Ascough, Bridget Morris, Bridget Wilberfoss).
Thomas, Samuel (2013-01-08). The Midwife's Tale: A Mystery (Kindle Locations 4261-4268). Minotaur Books. Kindle Edition.
Given the quality of this debut novel, I sincerely hope Samuel Thomas brings us more, with or without Lady Hodgson. If you like historical mysteries and strong women who prevail against the attitudes of their eras, this book will delight you.