Delivering the Truth: A Quaker Midwife Mystery

Written by Edith Maxwell
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In Amesbury, Massachusetts, in 1888, Rose Carroll, a 24-year-old Quaker midwife, spends her days attending to expectant mothers and delivering babies. Having experienced an unfortunate incident in her teens, Rose is still single, but a young doctor is showing some interest in her. Rose’s idyllic life in the community of Friends is disturbed when several of the town’s renowned carriage factories are burned, which throws many residents out of work. Rose is thrust into the investigation when a disgruntled citizen attempts to set fire to the Friends’ worship house during a service. Although Rose and others subdue the perpetrator, the police clear him from the list of arson suspects. Among Rose’s clients are the wife of a wealthy carriage-factory owner and his mistress, so Detective Donovan asks her to advise him about any information her patients might confide to her. However, when several gruesome murders follow, and the clues lead to Rose, she becomes a suspect herself.

Agatha-nominated mystery author Edith Maxwell has set this whodunit, first in a new series, in an unusual setting: a Quaker town in the late 19th century. The many snippets of information about the scenery and life in the district, the details of the Society of Friends’ norms and practices, and poet John Greenleaf Whittier’s appearance as a character all add depth to the story. At times, the dialogue seems contrived: for instance, in the opening birthing scene Rose tells her patient something she already knows: “I’m thy midwife and I’m here to help get this baby out.” Also, some readers might find the author’s overuse of Quaker dialect tedious. But the red herrings are introduced shrewdly, and the plot will keep readers guessing, wanting to learn the identity of the criminals and their motives.