June 1644, York. The city is under siege. As the Civil War rages across England, the Royalist city stands firm against the Parliamentarian forces outside the walls. Inside the city walls, Lady Bridget Hodgson, continues her essential job – delivering babies left, right and centre. But when one of her friends is accused of poisoning her husband, it seems that Bridget is the only person who is capable of saving her. But when a desperate ploy results merely in a stay of execution, and no-one in authority seems inclined to do anything about it, the midwife, along with her new servant Martha, take matters into their own hands. But with rebel spies in the city and a dark shadow from Martha’s past stalking them, it seems that every corner hides a new danger.
Another new book, to be released on 8th January 2013 from St Martin’s Press, which caught my eye because, like the last one, it’s an historical mystery by a new voice to me. A new voice in the field completely in this case, as this is the first novel from Sam Thomas, a historian by trade. The blurb that caught my eye quoted is as “In the tradition of Ariana Franklin and C J Sansom…” Now, from what I’ve read of them, those are mighty big shoes to try and walk in. So, how does Sam Thomas fare?
OK, trying to sum up my reaction to this book succintly. Here goes…
Bloody hell, that was good! And as a debut novel, this is an outstanding achievement.
The English Civil War is another period of history that I know little about. It’s not a common setting for historical mysteries – actually, I can’t think of any others – and at school, we learned the names of the battles, who won and who lost their head, and not a lot more. The siege of York is something I knew nothing about, so the factual historical side of this was fascinating.
The characters as well are very well drawn also. Lady Hodgson narrates the tale, and the conflict of a god-fearing woman who has to understand the Lord’s will that many babies will not survive, or who must refuse to birth bastards unless the mother-to-be names the father… she is a fascinating character. Twice widowed, with two dead children, she could be wallowing in misery but, while these shadows stay with her, this is the story of a strong woman who is getting on with her life.
The other characters are served well also, be it the servant (or is there more to her) Martha, or the various other members of the cast. Bridget’s nephew Will, for example, currently empowered by his father but always in the shadow of his brother who away in the wars… There are no cardboard cut-outs here.
But, of course, you’re here to hear about the mystery element. And the book doesn’t fail on that count either. There’s a cleverly chosen villain to be spotted and one particularly well hidden clue to their identity. The mystery plot is exceptionally satisfying and complements a great read.
I’ll shut up about it now, as I’d recommend you all keep an eye out for this one especially if you’re a fan of the historical mystery. An exceptional first entry into what I hope will be a long series of books to come…