This is the third colonial New England book we've reviewed whose main protagonist is a midwife! Catherine Williams, a respected, wealthy widow, serves as midwife to her Connecticut Puritan settlement just at the end of the 1637 Pequot War. Although the English and their Indian allies have subdued the Pequots through a bloody massacre, Catherine manages to save one, named Massaquoit. Over time their tentative master/servant relationship develops into a kind of mutual respect as they both try to establish the innocence of an Irish Catholic servant girl who has been accused of murder. Although the plot sometimes takes odd twists unrelated to the mystery, the book provides an authentic feel for the period through its use of 17th century language, and descriptions of the settlements superstitions, rigid class and gender hierarchy, and sometimes unsettling violence.
Lewis says he loosely based Catherine on Anne Hutchinson, a charismatic religious leader whose unorthodox views resulted in her eventual exile from the Puritan community. Hutchinson's beliefs and her stance within Puritan society, however, were much more complex than are those of Catherine, who anachronistically is so much more forward thinking and enlightened than her fellow Puritans. Massaquoits dignity and uprightness, too, seem a bit unreal. More interesting is his reluctance to forego his Indian way of life while understanding that his survival depends on his willingness to become "English." .
This is the first of Stephen's Catherine Williams New England mysteries. It opens with an "Explanatory Note" that helps set the historic stage for the narrative that follows.