Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Judge Thee Not by Edith Maxwell

When I reviewed Edith Maxwell's Charity's Burden earlier this year, I mentioned how relevant the historical mystery was to our own times. Now, in the fifth book of the Quaker Midwife series,  Judge Thee Not, the author strikes that same note of relevancy in a story of prejudice and bias.

Rose Carroll, a midwife in Amesbury, Massachusetts is in the post office to witness a town matriarch, Mayme Settle, insult Rose's friend, postmistress Bertie Winslow. Mayme, and others in town, don't approve of Bertie's lifestyle. She lives with and loves another woman, lawyer Sophie Ribiero. It seems Mrs. Settle is even gossiping about Sophie. Rose hears the rumors from one of her expectant mothers.

Bertie isn't the only subject of gossip in town. One of Rose's clients, Jeanette Papka, is expecting her second child. Jeanette has been blind from birth, but she's a skilled linguist who interprets several languages for immigrants who end up in court. That doesn't keep a local banker and Mrs. Settle from discussing her to her face, saying she's a deaf mute and a moron. Even Rose's young niece and nephews hear those comments at school about a blind child. "She's a moron."

However, it's not a "moron" who kills Mayme Settle. Rose's policeman friend, Kevin Donovan, reports that a witness puts Bertie at the scene. Rose is enraged, and she's even angrier when she hears the police chief's opinion of Bertie. With her strong sense of justice, Rose is determined to discover other people who could have a motive to kill the victim.

Maxwell brings together several fascinating storylines in this latest mystery. As a midwife, Rose Carroll is witness to joyous births, tragic losses, and the struggle of some babies and mothers to survive. All of those elements are present in the book, but they're handled with tenderness and care. Of course, there's the murder itself and the subsequent investigation. There's the happiness of Rose's ongoing relationship with her fiance.  But, Rose Carroll is also a witness to prejudice and hate, feelings that are still evident in our own times. There's prejudice and distrust of anyone who is different; lesbians, the blind, immigrants. Rose is aware as a single woman, a Quaker, and a midwife, she is as likely to be judged as unconventional as others are. And, she points out to Kevin, when he exhibits his own prejudice, that he's just one generation away from his immigrant parents.

While the mystery has an intriguing conclusion, it's our biases that are likely to stay with me. It's the gentle voice of poet John Greenleaf Whittier who reminds Rose that she herself can make people uncomfortable. It's a reminder that none of us are perfect. Maxwell's excellent latest historical novel is evidence that people haven't really changed.

Edith Maxwell's website is https://edithmaxwell.com/

Judge Thee Not by Edith Maxwell. Beyond the Page Publishing, 2019. 230p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Note: Now, I'm off to take a test about bias, Harvard's Project Implicit. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

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