Wonderful heroine, great setting, intriguing (but not super clever) mystery. I loved all the attention to period detail (even if my copy had some really weird lapses between the use of “thee” and “you”) and especially enjoyed the blunt way in which pregnancy and delivery are treated. As this book is set in 1800s Massachusetts with a busy midwife heroine, you can expect a bunch of dead babies due to the high mortality rate of the times, so if that puts you off, read elsewhere. Edith Maxwell does not shy away from the horrors of childbirth and pregnancy, and as a mom of three who really, really hates when people act as if pregnancy and childbirth are all magical sunshine and rainbows, I was very much a fan of her pragmatic approach to the subject.
I was less a fan of her treatment of the mentally ill and drug addiction, however. I’ve gone into detail about authorial voice vs character perspective elsewhere, so even giving Ms Maxwell the benefit of the doubt, it’s hard not to conclude that she’s more dismissive of the two issues than warranted (which is also weird because she’s clearly sympathetic to the manic depressive as well as to those suffering from postpartum depression.) There’s entirely too much unnuanced “crazy is crazy” and “drug addicts are terrible people” in a book that is otherwise very careful to love all as equals, in the way of the Society of Friends to which our heroine and the author belong. I’m hoping this is a thing Ms Maxwell grows more empathetic to and clear in writing as the series continues (as I have to read the next one for work,) but I do hope Rose Carroll keeps her warmth and wit, as she is truly a standout creation in a field littered with amateur detectives.
(Also, is there something about old-timey safety bicycles that makes them harder on the knees than modern bikes? As someone who keeps putting off knee surgery, I know it hurts less to ride than to walk, so there were bits about bicycling that left me going, “wait, what?”)