The Prophet (A Tabitha Hart Mystery 2)

Written by Martine Bailey
Review by Janice Ottersberg

The story of Tabitha and Nathaniel de Vallory, which began in The Almanack, continues in this mystery set in the Cheshire countryside. It is May 1753 when Nathaniel, heir to Bold Hall and its vast estate, sets out, along with a pregnant Tabitha, to see the ancient, giant oak tree in their forest. They encounter two things: a dead woman under the oak tree and a mysterious cult led by Baptist Gunn. Superstitious beliefs cast a shadow over the lives of the characters, especially Tabitha’s pregnancy. Nat wants to “call upon the tree spirit [to] ask for a safe childbirth,” and Tabitha puts her unborn baby in jeopardy when she looks upon the dead body. She recognizes the young, pregnant victim from her past, but tells no one. The couple then meets the strange Baptist Gunn and his followers encamped on de Vallory land. This begins Tabitha’s and Nat’s inquiry into the woman’s death and the untangling of the mystery of the suspicious Baptist Gunn, a sinister yet charismatic man preaching disturbing prophecies.

Tabitha and Nathaniel have a true-to-life marriage. They love each other, yet keep secrets from one another. Now and then their love and trust falters; they argue and make up. Woven into the story is the disruption created by Britain’s change to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. This leap forward by eleven days creates arguments and confusion among the villagers. It causes Tabitha’s calculations to prevent conception to fail, and the old timers don’t take well to the change, especially when it comes to events dictated by the moon such as hunting and harvesting.

This is a standout mystery with impressive research and convincing characters. Although it is not necessary to read The Almanack first, getting to know the characters through both novels provides a richer reading experience.