Edith here, writing from Amesbury, Massachusetts, where carriages no longer traverse the roads and paths. But where one happy author is delighted to announce that Charity’s Burden, my fourth Quaker Midwife Mystery, has been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel! It’s the fourth nomination for the series, and my seventh Agatha nod (hint, the paperback is on sale over on Amazon). Read on for a giveaway.
Only five authors are nominated, and once again I share the slate with four talented friends: Rhys Bowen, Susanna Calkins, LA Chandler, and – in his first Agatha nomination – friend of the Wickeds, our Boston neighbor – Gabriel Valjan. (I’m inviting them all over to the blog in April to share their books with you.) The winner is announced May 1 at the Malice Domestic conference in North Bethesda and gets to take home a teapot. If you’re going, you can vote there.
Today I’d to refresh your memory about Charity’s Burden. It came out last April, and we all know how many other historical mysteries have released since then. I hinted at the theme and plot here on the blog. I thought I’d give you a bit more.
Kirkus said this about the book: “Murder poses difficult challenges for a compassionate 19th-century Quaker midwife in Massachusetts . . . Because [Rose Carroll’s] actions are motivated by her faith, she won’t let threats keep her from doing the right thing as she seeks the truth. Plenty of suspects keep the pot bubbling as Maxwell examines the roots of the abortion controversy that continues to this day.”
Yes, the story addresses the issues of contraception and abortion in late 1880 New England, matters which have always been fraught for women. As part of my research I read Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth Century America by Janet Farrell Brodie and My Notorious Life by Kate Manning, a novel based on the life of Madame Restell, a nineteenth-century midwife and provider of abortions in New York City. I hadn’t known of the 1870 highly restrictive Comstock law, which made talking about preventing pregnancy a federal crime. Massachusetts and other states enacted even more severe versions.
Midwife Rose’s clients of course come to her for help with their pregnancies and births. When a woman bears seven children in nine years and her body can’t handle having more; when her husband has lost his job and they can barely feed the children they have; when she’s pregnant as a result of assault? Women ask Rose for help in preventing or ending a pregnancy, as they have asked midwives for centuries.
Rose’s remedies are limited to herbs and condoms, which are largely ineffective, and she does not recommend abortions, which can imperil life, but her heart goes out to the women she she is committed to serve. I included an herbalist based on Madame Restell. The book opens with a malnourished mother bleeding heavily. Mix in greed, jealousy, revenge, and passion, and you have the recipe for an Agatha-nominated historical mystery!
I would love to send a signed copy of Charity’s Burden to a commenter who missed it the first time around or who wants to give it as a gift.
Readers: Which historical controversies have you read about? Do you have a favorite era in the past?