Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

England, 1603


Bone House

by Betsy Tobin

This is not the usual mystery story. The heroine, a waiting lady in the “Big House” in a small rural village, is not a sleuth nor particularly proactive in trying to solve the mystery of the suspicious death of the town’s prostitute. But she does ask the right questions and works things out on her own. This serves her well when the prostitute’s body is taken from her grave and later found with her almost born fetus cut from her. The heroine’s mother, an unmarried midwife and healer, is accused of the deed and of witchcraft stemming from beliefs linking midwifery to consorting with the devil. It is not the first time the village has tried an older defenseless women for witchcraft and, to test her guilt, ducked her repeatedly in the village pond until she finally succumbed.

The story’s strength lies in the minute descriptions of the work of rural women as well as details about period dress and makeup. It is also a story about the almost mystical attraction both women and men had to the larger than life, story telling, mother earth figure which the prostitute came to represent. She was “welcoming to all,” and “men were drawn to her for pleasure; women for friendship.” Social hierarchy also is shown between the master and servants of the “The Great House” (the manor), and between the servants themselves. What works less well is the mostly first person present tense voice of the heroine, who is never given a name. Her language and sophisticated, indeed literary, thoughts seem beyond the scope of a young, semi-literate woman of limited experience.

This is the author’s first book. No historical background.



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