If you like a great historical mystery set in the mid-1600s of York, then I highly recommend Sam Thomas’ midwife mystery series for its superb character development, intriguing mystery, and detailed social and emotional issues of 17th Century England!
The Harlot’s Tale is the second book in a series by Sam Thomas, with the first being The Midwife’s Tale, and though I recommend both, I’m reviewing The Harlot’s Tale today as it just published earlier this month! Feel free to see my review of The Midwife’s Tale by clicking HERE.
As The Midwife’s Tale introduces widowed, wealthy, and independent midwife Bridget Hodgson to us, as well as her supporting characters of maid Martha and Hodgson’s nephew Will, we learn about how they all came to be in their respective situations in York, the state of the citizens, and takes us en route with them as they solve a murder mystery.
In The Harlot’s Tale, the novel picks right up in their ongoing lives, giving us a brief update, as well minor (but more than enough) details about who the characters are in case someone picks it up to read without reading The Midwife’s Tale. But it doesn’t at all make the book seem wordy or redundant for those who did read the first book, either. In my opinion, he does a nice job of setting the story and is fast getting to the plot of The Harlot’s Tale. I definitely think you could read this second book without even reading the first (though reading the whole series will certainly show a progression and give more depth to the series).
I LOVED The Harlot’s Tale even more than his first book. The writing seemed more carefree, as if he was more at ease with himself as fictional writer. He seemed more willing to be open about the social issues of the day, namely the inclusion of fundamentalist Christians who began giving roadside sermons and cracking down on sinners at this time. Isn’t this the main source of all angst in English cities of the past? Trying to rid the area of whores and pox by telling women they are sinners seems to be one of the most talked about issues in history. Maybe eventually it’s because of Jack the Ripper immortalizing the situation for everyone. Well, long before Jack came, Christians tried to rid the cities of whores by condemning them even further than their already lowly status. Thomas does an excellent job within the story of allowing us to see the circumstances through the eyes of women who lived in poor conditions without a husband and had to sell their bodies in order to survive. He allows his protagonist Bridget to be rather religiously impartial, even though her law enforcer brother-in-law is not. Thomas has her character weighing both sides of the coin, which I always think is a great way to get readers to think on important issues and break down judgemental barriers.
When a harlot is gruesomely murdered in a strange death scene in the novel, it’s as if the Old Testament of the Bible is being acted out to represent their sin. Bridget, Martha, and Will take to their detective work again, all the while uncovering heartfelt emotions for the reader (well, this reader) as to the plight of those women who were forced to work as prostitutes just to feed their children. Why were the men never taken to task for their abhorrent behavior? No demand, no supply right? That’s the way I see it. Many times these women had no other choice. Those Christian women with money who tried to preach a better way to them didn’t understand that most of them KNEW it was wrong, and why, and didn’t even like doing it themselves. Who would? But as a line in the book said, words don’t feed children. I really like how Bridget always has compassion for them as she holds men accountable for having bastard children and then leaving them to starve. At any rate, I think Thomas handled this issue extremely well and I applaud him as a man for genuinely being able to channel a strong female character as a male author. He has a very uncanny knowledge of women’s emotions and desires and it all adds to his well-developed characters as well as to the social message of his books.
Thomas’ mystery novel was fast-moving, intelligent, emotional, gritty, and I didn’t want to put it down. It moved much faster and was written with more finesse even than his first. I am beyond excited to read the third in his series next year. Bridget is a perfectionist at everything she does, whether it be delivering babies or solving a murder, and as I reader I felt as if I was bustling around the city with her and Martha. She has her own fears and nightmares (and grief) behind the scenes which really softened her more in this novel and as I reader I could connect with her even further than before.
Thomas is a historian and his research on midwives is unparalleled. His intricate details of her work as a midwife in this series is captivating. Overall, he creates a world for us that makes it easy to join in as we read, even though we could never imagine what it might have been like to live in it.
I am eager to recommend The Harlot’s Tale to fans of English mysteries set in the mid -1600s. If you like Sherlock Holmes, switch up the protagonists and try your hand at reading about a female midwife who stumbles upon becoming a detective of sorts and finds she not only rather feels it a duty, but an intense desire within herself to help women in need. As she delivers babies in to the Old World with precision, she also pieces together puzzles of death and mayhem. It’s absolutely a series not to be missed!
The Harlot’s Tale, Synopsis~
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, whipping 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.
Author Sam Thomas, Biography~
Sam Thomas has a PhD in history with a focus on Reformation England and in 2013 leaped from the tenure track into a teaching position at a secondary school near Cleveland, Ohio. He has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library, and the British Academy.
He has published articles on topics ranging from early modern Britain to colonial Africa. The Harlot’s Tale is the second book in his series, in which The Midwife’s Tale is the first.
Thomas lives in Ohio with his wife and two children.
Check out my interview with Sam Thomas by clicking HERE!
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