The Midwife’s Tale
In June 1644, York midwife, widow, and gentlewoman Bridget Hodgson’s “gossip” Esther Cooper is accused of poisoning her strict, abusive and — literally — puritanical husband, Stephen. Against the loyalist holders of the city, Bridget’s examination allows Esther to “plead her belly” long enough to find out who really committed the crime, this considered treason in a world of civil war against authority, wife against husband, servant against master. As the world became more urban, the place for a bastard child was less welcoming, society feeling it could make more demands on personally morality because of this. I did feel, however, the threat of a workhouse must be an anachronism.
Our author’s credits include research into early-modern midwifery practices, including the enticing will of the original Bridget Hodgson. This is interesting and pretty well done. It also focuses much of the action and the sleuthing. Interesting characters set the stage for a mystery series. I especially liked the focus on the “gossips,” a woman’s friends who attend her in childbirth and worm out all the gossip as to which maidservants might be with I found the siege, and the larger world surrounding the action, less well drawn, likewise religion and the broader civil conflict. Lapses such as the maid doing laundry on the Sabbath, the workhouse, the word “sofa,” etc., pulled me out. I’d call this a mixed review; the novel is readable and good on the midwifery but drops the ball on some other aspects of the craft.