Friday, January 24, 2014

Book Review: The Harlot's Tale by Sam Thomas

The Harlot's TaleSynopsis:

It is August, 1645, one year since York fell into Puritan hands. As the city suffers through a brutal summer heat, Bridget Hodgson and Martha Hawkins are drawn into a murder investigation more frightening than their last. In order to appease God’s wrath—and end the heat-wave—the city’s overlords have launched a brutal campaign to whip the city’s sinners into godliness. But for someone in York, whipping is not enough. First a prostitute and her client are found stabbed to death, then a pair of adulterers are beaten and strangled. York’s sinners have been targeted for execution.

Bridget and Martha—assisted once again by Will, Bridget’s good-hearted nephew—race to find the killer even as he adds more bodies to his tally. The list of suspects is long: Hezekiah Ward, a fire and brimstone preacher new to York; Ward’s son, Praise-God, whose intensity mirrors his father’s; John Stubb, one of Ward’s fanatic followers, whose taste for blood may not have been sated by his time in Parliament’s armies. Or could the killer be closer to home? Will’s brother Joseph is no stranger to death, and he shares the Wards’ dreams of driving sin from the city.

To find the killer, Bridget, Martha, and Will must uncover the city’s most secret sins, and hope against hope that the killer does not turn his attention in their direction.

Minotaur Books | January 7th, 2014 | 320 pages

My Review

The Harlot's Tale, the second novel in Sam Thomas' Lady Bridget Hodgson series, is a fast-paced, intelligent historical mystery.  Set in the Northern English city of York approximately one year after the conclusion of the series' introductory book, The Midwife's Tale (click here to read my review), The Harlot's Tale finds midwife Bridget Hodgson and her assistance Martha Hawkins called upon to assist in a series of grisly murder investigations involving prostitutes and adulterers.  But not everyone is keen that the murders be solved, for the city is in the midst of a severe heatwave, one that many feel will be relieved only when the city turns from its sinful ways. 

In Bridget Hodgson, Sam Thomas has created a memorable, true to life historical heroine.  One of the things I like best about Thomas' characterization of Bridget is that her attitudes, beliefs and actions are consistent with her position in society and the time period in which she lived.  One of my biggest pet peeves in historical fiction is characters who hold a modern world view.  Neither Bridget nor any of the other characters in this novel have this problem and, as a result, they feel authentic.  Another strength of this book is the historical detail, through which Thomas is able to bring 17th century York and its inhabitants to life.  While the practice of midwifery and its attendant customs aren't as prominent in The Harlot's Tale as they were in the first book, they do play a part in the story, which should satisfy readers who found the midwifery to be one of the most interesting aspects of The Midwife's Tale.   For my part, I enjoyed learning more about the nature of the religious tensions that existed in cities and towns such as York, which by 1645 had fallen into the hands of the Puritans, many of whom had little tolerance for those whose views did not match their own.  As I'm not overly familiar with the English Civil War, this book provided me with insight into the opinions and beliefs held by those who lived through it. 

While the characters and historical detail are big reasons why I enjoyed this novel, I also found the mystery itself to be a compelling one.  On several occasions I thought I had figured the murders out and identified the perpetrator only to be proven wrong.  As a result, the ultimate resolution ended up surprising me.   I also enjoyed learning of some of the ways in which a potential perpetrator could be "proven" guilty. 

I highly recommend The Harlot's Tale to anyone who enjoys mystery novels, historical or otherwise.  I can't wait to see where Thomas takes Bridget Hodgson next!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

 photo 76e534b8-bb83-4fa5-a6d8-7340377a070d.jpg

The Harlot's Tale has been on tour for the month of January.  Click here to check out the tour schedule

About the Author

Sam ThomasSam Thomas is an assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library, and the British Academy. He has published articles on topics ranging from early modern Britain to colonial Africa. Thomas lives in Alabama with his wife and two children.

For more information, please visit Sam Thomas’ website and blog. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

post signature