You know I love a good mystery, and I’m a huge fan of C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake mysteries. When I was in the bookstore last month I discovered another new writer named Sam Thomas and his novel The Midwife’s Tale.
Set in York, England in 1644 during a siege Bridget Hodgson is a wealthy widow and midwife. The responsibilities of a midwife of the time stretch beyond just delivering babies, and they held a certain amount of prestige, despite being women, back in that day. Bridget’s responsibilities range from delivering babies, to investigating infant deaths, and tracking down the father’s of bastards so they can be held to account.
When one of her close friends is sentenced to burn for the death of her husband, she knows there is no way this woman is guilty. The trial was a farce put on by worried city leaders in the midst of a siege and political intrigue. With the help of a new maidservant, with a mysterious past of her own, she embarks to discover who really killed the husband of her friend.
I enjoyed the plot of course, but I also found the historical and political descriptions of the day interesting. Thomas did a great job of creating characters and conflicts that will carry him through more than one novel. (There is a second one out already titled The Harlot’s Tale.)
Thomas provides a note at the end of the novel explaining that he came across the character of Bridget Hodgson while reading historical wills from that time. Bridget Hodgson was an actual person, and a midwife. In his experience of reading hundreds of historical wills she stood out because she was the only woman who “defined herself by her profession ‘midwife’ and not be her marital status…” Yes, for a woman of that time period, that would make her stand out.