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.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 321 pages
Publication date: January 7, 2014
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