Nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel
Blurb from Goodreads:
Quaker midwife Rose Carroll hears secrets and keeps confidences as she attends births of the rich and poor alike in an 1888 Massachusetts mill town. When the town’s world-famed carriage industry is threatened by the work of an arsonist, and a carriage factory owner’s adult son is stabbed to death with Rose’s own knitting needle, she is drawn into solving the mystery. Things get dicey after the same owner’s mistress is also murdered, leaving her one-week-old baby without a mother. The Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier helps Rose by lending words of advice and support. While struggling with being less than the perfect Friend, Rose draws on her strengths as a counselor and problem solver to bring two murderers to justice before they destroy the town’s carriage industry and the people who run it.
One of the great things about reading historical fiction is that you learn so much. I am not ashamed to admit that before reading this novel I knew next to nothing about Quakers. And I’m also not ashamed to admit that the constant use of ‘thy‘ and ‘thee‘ got to be more than a little annoying while reading the book. That being said, it was necessary to maintain the authenticity of the speech of “The Friends”.
The novel takes place shortly after The Great Blizzard of 1888.
Set in Amesbury, Massachusetts in early April of 1888, the novel features Quaker midwife Rose Carroll. At twenty-six years of age, she is unmarried, but has a ‘beau’, Doctor David Dodge. Rose is a strong, observant, forthright, and intelligent woman who lives in the same house as her brother-in-law and his children after the recent death of her sister. She works as midwife to women of all social status, and she is very skilled at what she does.
“Women giving birth go down into death and bring forth life.”
Given that she sees women from all walks of life, it is understandable then that she also inadvertently overhears secrets…
Rose is a contemporary of the famous poet and abolitionist, John Greenleaf Whittier, who is an elder in the ‘Society of Friends‘, and acts as her mentor. A devout Quaker, Rose realizes that non-Quakers have a hard time understanding her faith.
“I have been explaining the odd ways of Friends for twenty some years, ever since I became aware of our differences from the rest of the world.”
There has been a deadly fire which has burned many of the town’s world famous carriage companies and incurred much loss of life. The town relied heavily on the thriving carriage industry and the townsfolk are appalled that it may have been set deliberately! When she aids in the apprehension of a criminal, a local policeman enlists Rose to keep her ear to the ground to help in finding the arsonist.
Then, the peaceful town experiences the unthinkable. The son of one of the most prominent carriage makers has been murdered! When Rose learns that the murder weapon was one of her own cherished knitting needles, her own reputation is in jeopardy!
Soon after, one of Rose’s newly delivered mothers is also murdered. Rose is determined that since the police seem to have no luck in solving these crimes, it is up to her to do so.
In addition to the crimes portrayed, I enjoyed reading of Rose’s personal dilemma and thought it added greatly to the story. She is torn about her relationship with Doctor David Dodge. The obstacles and problems that an interfaith marriage would produce are daunting, and could have long-lasting repercussions to a Quaker woman.
Well researched historical detail adds to the allure of this ‘cozy’ mystery. The time period of this novel was when women had few, if any rights. A time when childbirth often took the life of the new mother and when infant mortality rates were high. A time when technology in the home meant that your sink had a pump right beside it, instead of the need of carrying water in from a well. A time before fingerprints were used in the apprehension of criminals and a time LONG before DNA testing.
As I mentioned earlier, Rose is a strong, independent thinking woman in a time when women were expected to meekly adhere to a man’s point of view. For that I quite admired her. On the other hand, I found Rose to be a bit too selfless and noble to be quite believable. Perhaps her Quaker customs and way of thinking were just too vastly different from life as I’ve experienced it…
This is the first novel in the author’s Quaker Midwife series. I don’t think this is a series I will pursue, but I did enjoy this book and liked the suspense-filled climax and I appreciated the satisfactory ending. I think it will be relished by those who like spunky heroines and historical mysteries that are cozy, yet well-plotted.
Some Quaker ‘Quick Facts’ you may not know: (it was all new to me)
- Quakers address everyone by their first name as they believe everyone is equal in the eyes of God regardless of their race, gender, religion, or social station.
- Quaker ‘meetings’ are silent affairs with no singing or preaching. They believe that God is within everyone and they utilize this silent time to reflect and accept God’s inner light.
- Quakers do not drink alcoholic beverages of any kind.
- Quakers do not use the common names for the days of the week. They use First Day, Second Day, etc. Months are referred to as First Month, Second Month, etc.
- Quakers dress plainly and usually in dark colours. This is an extension of their beliefs in moral purity, integrity, honesty, simplicity and humility.
- Quakers do not act in a reactionary way – they wait for situations to rest and evolve before making any decisions. They are strongly opposed to warfare.
Agatha-nominated and Amazon bestselling author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries, as well as award-winning short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she authors the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. She also wrote two Lauren Rousseau Mysteries (as Tace Baker). Maxwell lives north of Boston, in Amesbury, Massachusetts. She has two grown sons, and lives in an antique house with her beau, their three cats, and several fine specimens of garden statuary.