Saturday, September 07, 2019

Doubling Up on Edith Maxwell's Quaker Midwife Mysteries

Well-written historical mysteries offer the benefits of time travel, first class: With a trustworthy author who does plenty of research, diving into a "history mystery" reveals the nuances of a particular time and culture, through the eyes of a compelling character tackling risk, danger, and injustice.

That's one of the great pleasures of reading the Quaker Midwife Mystery series from Massachusetts author Edith Maxwell. Set in Amesbury, Massachusetts, in the 1880s, the books have probed class and gender, liberty for Black Americans and for women across the board, and the customs of the politically active worship units of the Quakers.

Maxwell's most recent book in this series was CHARITY'S BURDEN, released in April 2019. Protagonist Rose Carroll is a midwife who takes her religious customs with her to to family homes she visits -- addressing people by their first names, for instance, something that Quakers of her time did to indicate that all were of equal standing. As an activist on behalf of her clients, Rose confronts the inequities in their lives: poverty, abusive spouses, terribly long work hours.

In CHARITY'S BURDEN, Rose discovers, to her horror, that one of her clients may have experienced a botched abortion and died from the results. Rose certainly understands the need for family planning, and can sympathize with a woman's desire to end a pregnancy when conditions will make another birth dangerous or cruel. But she has no patience for people who knowingly injure women (pregnant or not).

So the hunt begins for who in Amesbury is quietly putting lives at risk. At the same time, while Rose collaborates with police detective Kevin Donovan (despite Donovan's new boss banning such teamwork), she longs for the chance to finally marry her own beloved David, a doctor who in fact may be of assistance in her search for justice:
It occurred to me that David might know of doctors who provided abortion services, as illegal as they were. "And I might need a bit of help from thee."

"Whatever I can do."

"We had a happy announcement here last night. Faith and Zeb are also to be wed, and it will be this First Day."

"My, so soon. You're correct, that's very happy news." He fell silent for a moment. "Did this make you wistful for our own vows, darling?"

"I confess it did."
However, since David's mother is adamantly opposed to her son marrying Rose -- her career, her values, even her clothing are not what's expected for such a marriage -- Rose's efforts to take care of her clients and stop the illegal procedures costing them health and even life may cost her dearly.

Series readers get an extra treat with the Quaker Midwife series this year: Mystery publisher Midnight Ink, which brought CHARITY'S BURDEN and the three earlier books of this series to print, has closed its doors. So the next in the Quaker Midwife series, JUDGE THEE NOT (involving a false accusation, class bias, a pregnant woman who's blind, and more) is coming out from Beyond the Page Publishing ... not next year, but next week!

So order both books through your local store or online retailer, and enjoy the double treat. Not much "on-stage violence" in these books, but wonderful information (instilled the way Barbara Cleverly brings us England between the wars, or Sujata Massey offers India of the 1920s) and a capable and loving sleuth -- well worth adding to the TBR stack and then the "read it again soon" shelves.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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