This is a dark mystery set in a small Maine community in the years following Americas Revolutionary War. Nurse-midwife Hannah Trevor, working in the one business open to women, is drawn into the investigation of a women raped and murdered. One of the men accused of the horrible deed is the father of her beloved illegitimate daughter. As a single widowed woman, Hannah, who choses not to remarry, lives an unconventional life. Plus she is a fearless risk taker. As the plot unfolds, her actions, both ridiculed and admired by her community, put her life in danger.
The authors interest in the personal costs of war is clear as past hidden wartime deeds come back to haunt and even destroy members of the community. Lawrence writes of a post independence America with a huge war debt and government left in chaos, an impoverished middle and poor class weakened by increasing taxes and loss of land, a rising newly monied class greedily taking advantage of their fellow citizens, and incidents of mob violence fueled by anger and frustrations. As one character declares, when you teach plain men and decent women to kill and kill, and show them they can be snuffed out in an instant at any fools order, then sometimes they break, sir.
Lawrence is a lyrical writer, and this is a well written book. Also top notch is the Afterword, summing up the state of America in the late 1780s with particular reference to the status and limited rights of women. This is the first of three Hannah Trevor mysteries; a fourth follows the life of Hannahs daughter, Jennet.