Shaker Heights man debuts

mystery set in 1644 York

From the title, The Midwife’s Tale sounds as if Chaucer wrote it, but it’s a superb debut mystery by Shaker Heights author Sam Thomas.

In 1644 York, as the English Civil War rages around the city walls, two remarkable, very different women unite in an investigation to prove a townswoman innocent of murder.

Lady Bridget Hodgson, a well-off widow, is a midwife in York. As she rests at her home after a difficult birth, a woman named Martha Hawkins comes from Hereford, bringing a letter: Martha had been the maid of Bridget’s late cousin Elizabeth, and Elizabeth had given Martha the letter to ask Bridget to find Martha a position. Bridget hires Martha on approval for two weeks, and she proves to be bright, enterprising and able to pick locks.

One of Bridget’s obligations as a midwife is to question unwed mothers until they name the fathers of their babies; otherwise she must, by law, withhold her services, even if it means mother and child will die. When she hears that a local servant woman is pregnant, she demands to examine her, but is thwarted by the maid’s vengeful mistress, who has a longstanding grudge against Bridget.

Much more troubling is the murder conviction of Bridget’s dearest friend Esther Cooper, accused of killing her overbearing husband and tried without a bona fide judge or the opportunity to defend herself. By the time Esther has a chance to appeal to Bridget to help her, she already has been sentenced to death by burning, hanging being deemed too good for her, as killing one’s husband is “petty treason.”

Every detail in Thomas’ portrayal of political conspiracy, infanticide and gossips, the 17th-century Real Housewives of York, is vivid and true, and Bridget and Martha are two very welcome new characters.

The Midwife’s Tale (310 pages, hardcover) costs $24.99 from Minotaur. Thomas already has a deal with Minotaur for three more books in the series; the next, The Harlot’s Tale, will be out in 2014.

Sam Thomas, along with Mary Grimm, chair of the English department at Case Western Reserve University, will discuss The Midwife’s Tale and the historical mystery genre at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Coventry Village Library, 1925 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights.

‘Bank of Bob’ looks at microloans

Those who read Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! by game show champion and Willoughby native Bob Harris already know some things about him: Besides his encyclopedic knowledge of minutiae, Harris is brimming with wit and humanity, as demonstrated in his new book The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time.

The freelance job Harris had in 2008, writing for Forbes Traveler, was the ultimate luxury gig: updating reviews of the world’s swankiest hotels. But while sleeping in a $1,500-a-night room, checking out the cocktail menu where a drink costs $7,438 (but you keep the solid gold tumbler) and riding around in a vintage Rolls-Royce, Harris always noticed the workers who built the billion-dollar hotels, some of whom slept in shacks or worse. He’d heard of Kiva.org, the online organization that allows people to make small business loans in developing countries, and decided to invest (there is no interest returned on the loans) some of his freelance income in Kiva microloans.

Harris travels to meet some of the people who have borrowed from him, including a bicycle repairman, a flower grower, a grocer, becoming business partners with those he finances. He says he has a better than a 95.5 percent repayment rate.

The International Bank of Bob (400 pages, hardcover) costs $24 from Walker & Company, a division of Bloomsbury.

Congratulations

Two major national literary awards have gone to local residents.

The Circumcision Decision: An Unbiased Guide for Parents by Susan Terkel of Hudson was named the winner in the Childcare category of the Books for a Better Life Awards, sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The book was published by Hudson’s new Carrot Seed Publishing, founded by Terkel’s husband and collaborator (2004’s Small Change) Larry Terkel, and son, Ari Terkel.

Akron poet Diane Gilliam has won the $50,000 Gift of Freedom grant from A Room of Her Own Foundation for women writers and artists. According to a press release, the grant will support Gilliam’s next work, a book of poems titled The Blackbirds Too. A previous book, Kettle Bottom, won a Pushcart Prize and the Ohioana Library Association Book of the Year in Poetry.

Events

Laurel Lake Retirement Community (200 Laurel Lake Dr., Hudson) — Regina Brett, author of Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible, talks and signs her books at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Mac’s Backs (1820 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights) — San Francisco author Robert Diemer reads from and signs his debut novel The Widow’s Son: A Tropical Island Mystery, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

Barnes & Noble (198 Crocker Park Blvd., Westlake) — Maureen Kostalnick signs The Butternut Tree, a novel based on her mother’s ill treatment in mid-century Avon, 7 p.m. Thursday; ESPN host Mike Greenberg (“Mike and Mike in the Morning”) signs his debut novel All You Could Ask For, about three women whose lives intersect when each is diagnosed with breast cancer, noon Saturday.

Learned Owl Book Shop (204 N. Main St., Hudson) — Steven D. Harris talks about and signs his Civil War novel Faded Lines of Gray, about the attempt to free Confederate prisoners held on Johnson’s Island near Sandusky, 1 p.m. Saturday.

— Barbara McIntyre

Special to the Beacon Journal

Send information about books of local interest to Lynne Sherwin, Features Department, Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309 or lsherwin@thebeaconjournal.com. Event notices should be sent at least two weeks in advance.