by Sam Thomas
A great cover and title attracted me to this book. Even better, it was set in York – my old home town. Then I read a few pages online and spotted the first mistake – ‘the spires of York Minster’. Towers and pinnacles, yes, but never ‘spires’. I wondered if the author had ever visited York? Maybe not. Nevertheless, I bought and read the book and found a good murder mystery with some interesting facts about the period. Best of all he tells us about the life and work of a real woman, Bridget Hodgson, a midwife who lived in the city at that time.
An intriguing story-line kept me turning pages, but the relationship between midwife Lady Bridget Hodgson and Martha, her new servant/apprentice, frequently struck an odd note – and words like ‘gotten’ were out of place and time. Also their movements about the city frequently confused me, a reader who knows the city well.
My biggest disappointment, however, was in the lack of atmosphere or tension. York was supposedly a city under siege, and yet the reader would hardly know it from Sam Thomas’s novel. We are told of the conflict between King’s men and Parliament’s sympathisers, but there is no sense of the townsfolks’ daily fear while the enemy was closing in, the city being fired upon and the gateways mined.
I had no intention of reviewing this book until I read the first few pages of the next in this series, and another error leapt out. In ‘The Harlot’s Tale’ Sam Thomas mentions in passing that post-siege, fervent puritans had destroyed the Minster’s ‘memorial to Thomas à Becket’. Where did that come from? Does he mean Canterbury? The Minster’s shrine was to St William of York, and that disappeared under Henry VIII at the Reformation.
With that, I felt the need to comment – after all, Sam Thomas is a professional historian and could do better, even from his home in the USA. Facts are important even in fiction, and he knows about research. There are enough pictures of York on the internet, and a modern map for reference would have improved his fictional journeys around the city.