New author Sam Thomas has introduced Lady Bridget Hodgson, a devout and determine midwife of 17th century York, to the roster of medieval and early modern sleuths in The Midwife’s Tale and The Harlot’s Tale. More entries are sure to follow these two, and that’s a very good thing.
Mr. Thomas uses his academic background to evoke the York milieu of the middle of the 17th century. He covers: the squalor cheek-by-jowl with the posh neighborhoods, the multitude of parish churches in a city of relatively modest population, and the importance of religious observances in everyday life. In The Harlot’s Tale especially, Mr. Thomas presents the high tension between the Puritan impulse and the more traditional Protestant sects.
This is, in fact, one quibble I have with the narrative of Harlot’s Tale: it focuses too much on peoples’ preoccupation with how to fear and cajole their God. Yes, the theme of righteousness and hypocrisy figures very large here, but there is also such things as relief, contrast, and nuance to give a book depth and variability. And I want also to address those special features of a mystery – clues, subtle indicators of guilt or innocence, the sleuth’s deductive powers – Mr. Thomas’s handling of these needs refinement. Lady Hodgson solves crime with her small posse, her maidservant Martha (easily the series’ most appealing character) and her nephew Will. They work cooperatively toward answers and next steps, but Lady Bridget needs to take control more and start to outthink her think tank.
For my money, there can never be too many medieval mystery series.There is a lot of potential here for Sam Thomas’s midwife. He needs, however, to tighten up his mystery processes, and make Lady Bridget smarter than your average crimebuster.