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Reviews of The Blind in Darkness
J. Kingston Pierce, "The Rap Sheet":
If you thought Stephen Lewis' debut novel, The Dumb Shall Sing(1999), gave his cast of 17th-century New Englanders a ripe opportunity to exercise their belligerent Puritanism, just wait till you read his sequel, The Blind in Darkness (Berkley Prime Crime). When killings in a nearby hamlet are followed by the murder of an eccentric old farmer in Newbury and the disappearance of that farmer's enigmatic assistant, Thomas Hall, Newburyites turn their suspicions on Massaquoit, the Indian servant of midwife Catherine Williams. Of course, the intelligent and independent Massaquoit is innocent; but racial hatreds boil up around him, nonetheless. They even affect William's role in the community. A wealthy merchant, landlord to the deceased farmer and father to a young man who's betrothed to Hall's sister, seeks to deny Williams the care of his pregnant daughter, claiming that the midwife's practices are too unorthodox. What's really unorthodox is this yarn's solution, although the perceptive reader is likely to figure it out long before the end. Lewis is an engaging writer, especially in scenes that recall Colonial-era midwifery practices. I look forward to reading his third novel,The Sea Hath Spoken, which he tells me "will be out next January."
In colonial Newbury, New England, Catherine Williams earns a living as a midwife and general healer. Catherine visits old man Isaac Powell to tend his festering wound caused by a bite on his hand. A few days later, someone murders Powell and the deceased's apprentice, Thomas of Barbados, is missing.
The local residents believe that Catherine's assistant, a non-converted Indian Massaquoit, killed Powell. Though he never became a Catholic, Catherine knows her helper and believes he is innocent. As she works with her patients, Catherine begins to make inquiries into the murder of Isaac even if it places her in danger from a culprit who will do anything to keep secrets hidden.
The Blind in Darkness an excellent Colonial mystery filled with tidbits of the era. The story line is exciting as the who-done-it takes the audience on several twists and turns before revealing the killer's identity. The characters make Colonial New England seem vividly alive, especially amateur sleuth Catherine and her Indian assistant. Stephen Lewis provides sub-genre fans with a triumphant tale that will leave readers clamoring for more novels starring Catherine et al.
Roberta Alexander, "Contra Costa Times":
This dark, compelling novel, rich with undercurrents, brings us to New England in the days of the Pilgrims. Not many mysteries are set during this period, but it certainly is an interesting time. In this story, an elderly man is killed and his hands cut off. Suspicion immediately falls on the local Indians, with whom the colonists have a troubled and ugly relationship.
The focus of the story is on the midwife, Catherine Williams, and the American Indian, Massaquoit, whom she has befriended. While both seek the murderer, they have problems within their own communities: an influential merchant dislikes Catherine because of his business dealings with her late husband; a turncoat Indian troubles Massaquoit.
There are several other noteworthy characters, including the victim's missing servant, Catherine's knowledgeable servant cum assistant, the minister, and the family of the influential merchant. But stronger than any of these is the sense of the colony of Newbury itself, beset by racism, restricted by its bleak view of life and struggling against a devastating winter.
Some scenes -- notably the childbirth and its aftermath -- are so intense that the hapless reader may, like the hapless reviewer, become so caught up in it that he or she is late to an appointment. It's a small price to pay.
Ellen Healy, Book Reviewer:
The newest growing section of historical mysteries is the Early American setting. Good selections this month are Stephen Lewis' The Dumb Shall Sing and The Blind in Darkness.Set in the fictional Puritan settlement of Newbury in 1638 New England, they tell of the harsh life in early settlements and spotlight his heroine, Catherine Williams. The stories are well written, and Lewis, who is a Scholar of New England Puritanism, relates the language and atmosphere in a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting manner.
Toby Bromberg,"Romantic Times":
Catherine Williams earns her keep through midwifery and general healing practices. An open-minded woman, she relies on her native manservant, Massaquoit, a good deal.This arouses the suspicions of her neighbors, who fear the "heathen"Indians. Then Catherine treats an elderly, eccentric neighbor, whose young apprentice is odder still. A few days later, the apprentice has vanished, her patient is a murder victim, and Massaquoit, who discovered the body -- and who has also refused to convert to Christianity -- is the chief suspect. Catherine knows he's innocent, and though busy with many patients, she investigates the crime and discovers the shocking secret that led to her patient's death. The mystery inThe Blind in Darkness is a solid one which packs a potent surprise. Lewis pays a good deal of attention to historical accuracy, and one immediately becomes caught up in the doings of colonial Newbury.
Lynne Remick, "Midwest Review of Books":
When Catherine Williams' neighbor, old man Powell turns up dead, minus his scalp, suspicion quickly settles on her Indian servant, Massaquoit. The strong-willed Catherine will not bow to such accusations and maintains Massaquoit's innocence, even when it means that she herself will be chastised for it. Determined to uncover the real murderer and clear Massaquoit's name, Catherine and her faithful accomplice set out on a dangerous pathstrewn with deception.
The Blind In Darkness is an enlightening piece of historical fiction which authentically deals with such intriguing issues of Colonial Society as law and order, crime and punishment, town government, prejudice, and even midwifery. With exciting, well-orchestrated twists and turns of plot, Stephen Lewis takes the reader on a bumpy, but exciting ride through Colonial Massachusetts.
Both Massaquoit and Catherine present as well-crafted characters, fitting of their time, yet with enough admirable characteristics to give them modern appeal. Midwife Catherine Williams is endowed of great strength and courage--reminiscent of the factual person ofAnne Hutchinson. Massaquoit has a quiet pride that effectively invokes sympathy from the reader.
Although I am a fan of historical mysteries, I expected to find this book somewhat duller than some mysteries because of its Puritan setting, but instead found it to be a colorful and lively story of suspense. I can only attribute this to extensive research on the part of Lewis to bring depth and detail to the Puritan setting and to find as hocking, but believable resolution. Although I missed the first novel of Stephen Lewis' Trilogy, The Dumb Shall Sing, I look forward to picking up a copy and embarking on another sojourn to the 17th century realm of the Puritans. The Blind In Darknesslacked the heroic romance I usually crave in my reading and yet it proved a fascinating read. I must give it a nine out of ten,because of its chilling, challenging mystery and its extremely authentic feel.
New England in the late 17th century is a cold, hard land populated with people who can be equally as cold and hard. Mistress Catherine Williams, a wealthy widow, midwife, healer, and teacher, has an accepting heart and is tolerant of all. Living near Catherine in his wigwam is the Peguot sachem Indian, Massaquoit, who is allowed to live in Newbury as long as he is considered a prospective Christian attending worship service in the meeting house on Sunday. Isaac Powell works a farm for Samuel Worthington, a wealthy Newbury merchant, in exchange for a place to live. The farm is located far from Newbury, and Powell likes it that way. He likes being off by himself. Powell is found murdered and his young apprentice, Thomas, is missing. It looks as if Powell was murdered by Indians. When English blood is spilled, all Indians become suspect. Massaquoit wants to solve the murder so the English will leave him in peace. Catherine Williams wants the truth. They each have their own reasons to stand together against the English, and together they make a formidable team. From the start this reader was captured in the setting of the novel. I felt like I was trudging through the snow or slipping on the ice right along with Catherine and Massaquoit. It is a bleak world in which the Puritans in Newbury live. The colonial setting was well done with descriptions of loading and firing a musket, of the homes of the rich and the poor, of the healing use of herbs and of clothing of the period (the clothing described that the English wear from the Indian point of view brought a chuckle to this reader). Lewis uses just enough of the colonial vernacular to complete the setting. He weaves the setting, plot, and characters together to create unique interactions. Catherine and Massaquoit each pick up different pieces of the puzzle and working together, put the pieces together into an interesting conclusion ... a conclusion that left me wondering just how much we've learned about tolerance in 300 years. I enjoy historical mysteries and The Blind in Darkness not only received extra points from me for its interesting title, but also as the best historical mystery I've read so far this year.
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