Friday, January 17, 2014

Review: "The Harlot's Tale" by Samuel Thomas

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.

My Thoughts:  Wow, Sam Thomas did it again!  The Harlot's Tale is a masterfully written tale of murder and intrigue in 17th century England.  I loved Thomas' first book, The Midwife's Tale (review here) and this second book picks up where the first left off.

Bridget continues to be a great character.  I really enjoy reading about her.  I love how intelligent she is and the respect she commands despite being a widow with almost no family.  Her profession as a midwife is fascinating and I think the author must have done a lot of research on midwifery during that era because he explains it in such detail.  It was really interesting to see  that her role as a midwife gave her so much access to the goings on in the city.  I would never have thought that a midwife would be called in to look at a body and determine it's cause of death.  I also liked how the author had Bridget wrestle with her feelings about God.  The religious upheavals going on around her, made her question her beliefs as well as the sufferings she had endured and it really added even more depth to her character.

In this book, Bridget finds herself trying to solve the murders of several prostitutes that appear to be tied to religious zealots in the city.  The author used the religious upheaval going on during that era as a back drop for these murders which resulted in a pretty great mystery story.  I know I've said this before but I love when I can't figure out who the murderer is in a story, and I definitely didn't figure it out in this book.  There was a large cast of crazies and it was easy to get distracted from seeing who the real killer was.

There were quite a few surprises at the end of the story, some good and some not so good.  I am really hoping that there will be another 'Midwife Mystery' because I would love to see how these events effect the lives of Bridget, Will and Martha.  Overall, I highly recommend this book to any reader looking for a story with endearing characters and a great mystery. 4 stars.

I received this book from HFVBT in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author:
Sam Thomas is an assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. 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. Thomas lives in Alabama with his wife and two children. 

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