Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Review: The Witch Hunter's Tale by Sam Thomas

(Be sure to come back tomorrow for my interview with the author, Sam Thomas!)

Sam Thomas takes readers back to Puritan England with midwife Bridget Hodgson, hailed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as “one of the most fascinating detectives in contemporary mystery fiction.”

Winter has come to the city of York, and with it the threat of witchcraft. As women and children sicken and die, midwife Bridget Hodgson is pulled against her will into a full-scale witch-hunt that threatens to devour all in its path, guilty and innocent alike.

Bridget—accompanied once again by her deputy Martha Hawkins and her nephew Will Hodgson—finds herself playing a lethal game of cat and mouse against the most dangerous men in York, as well as her sworn enemy Rebecca Hooke. As the trials begin, and the noose begins to tighten around her neck, Bridget must answer the question: How far will she go to protect the people she loves?



I would hate to be the people who have abused positions in the religious hierarchy to gain political or military power.  On the other hand, I'd love to be there when karma comes around to bite them in, someplace that's better left unbitten?
There is no shortage of lust for power in The Witch Hunter's Tale.  Chief amongst the antagonists is Joseph Hodgson, Bridget's nephew (by marriage) and Rebecca Hooke, a rival midwife.  Rebecca is pea-green with envy that the women of York seem to prefer Bridget's services and often coerces clients by starting rumors about them if they slight her.  Back then, rumors could get you killed quite easily.  And if the people of York see witches everywhere, they will want someone to dispose of them.  And the person who does will have the power of life and death over the city.
There is no question that Joseph opposes Bridget's efforts.  He arrests her friends, charges witchcraft against some of them, and outright threatens her with death.  But Mr. Thomas poses an interesting far would we go to protect those we love?  Bridget goes far; more so than some can accept.  But can I 'judge' her for what she does?  I have often said if someone attempted to harm one of my children they should RUN, not walk, to the closest police station, because the treatment they got there would be far superior than that I would mete out.
The characters are quite human.  They have their strengths and their weaknesses, their virtues and their sins.  They are far from perfect people...but then neither are we.
Two things that are common to books I really enjoy are my emotional connection to the characters, and the language used by the authors.  This puts me in mind of an episode of the Britcom "To the Manor Born", where Penelope Keith's character talks about why they use the KJV of the Bible at their parish church, "...I object to having the (Sunday) lesson read out in civil service jargon."
Witch Hunter scores on both points.  I had a lot of sympathy for those who were the targets (random or otherwise) of the antagonists.  By far, the majority of these discovered 'witches' were female, and either old or without m(any) other words, easy targets.  There's a reason the term 'witch hunt' survives to this day.  Even the 'bad guys' are good.  (I mean that in the sense that they are formidable and are definitely worthy foils for Bridget and Martha.)
And Mr. Thomas's choice of words?  In a single word, marvelous!  The tempo kept me engaged in the story without making me out of breath.  I had actually started this book some time ago, but then realized I had several other reviews due before this one and picked Witch Hunter back up when I was done.  While I certainly could have read it straight through, it was wonderful to be able to stop (out of necessity) and pick up the thread easily again at the proper time.
If this time period (English Civil War) interests you then The Witch Hunter's Tale needs to be on your TBR (to be read) bookshelf.  If you like books that make you think - especially about our own or others' prejudices, Witch Hunter is an excellent read.  I include that because I started off reading this book with a prejudice of my own.  I thought, "How good can a book with a female protagonist, written by a male, be?"  Rarely have I been so happy to be wrong.
The only fault I can find with the book is that it is the third in a series, so now I am two books and a short story further behind in my reading, because I have GOT to read them as well so I can find out the rest of Bridget's story!


Sam Thomas is an assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library, and the British Academy. He has published articles on topics ranging from early modern Britain to colonial Africa. Thomas lives in Alabama with his wife and two children.

For more information please visit Sam Thomas’s website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


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(Disclosure:  I received a copy of The Witch Hunter's Tale from the author and publisher via HFVBT in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)


  1. No, no, no...third in a series? gah!

    It sounds fantastic--unusual setting, good characterization and writing voice, sound history...

    Now I have to start at the beginning. Thank you for the review!

  2. Ah, I think I will have to give this one a miss! I like a good historical fiction but I have over studied the English Civil War in class and... I don't think I could take anymore xD

  3. Not sure if I would like this one, or not.
    I do like your review.

    Mind if I borrow your idea of putting where books can be found?