Reviews of The Sea Hath Spoken:
Ava Dianne Day, author of the Fremont Jones mysteries:
The Sea Hath Spoken is an interesting novel for its use of history as well as for its many fascinating characters. I enjoyed it enough that I intend to locate the previous two books in this series: The Dumb Shall Sing and The Blind in Darkness. So this was, obviously, my first experience with the series.
In historical mysteries, generally either the history or the mystery takes precedence, one over the other; this varies from writer to writer, but it's seldom that a mystery author is able to achieve equal balance between the two. Stephen Lewis comes very close to this almost impossible task of finding the balance; however, in the end I believe he comes out admirably on the accuracy of history side.
The main character in this series is a midwife named Catherine Williams, a widow sixty years of age, who is well off by virtue of property left by her husband, and who is really as much doctor to the community as she is midwife. She commands a position of respect. The one question I had was whether or not most midwives at the time were as respected as Catherine is; given the overall attention to detail, I expect this issue is probably dealt with in a previous book. That nitpick aside, the plot is fascinatingly complex; the complexity derives from the numerous characters as well as the twists and the turns of the plot. Other than the protagonist, the most well-developed character is an Indian named Massaquoit who lives in a wigwam under a large tree in Catherine's yard, and is, essentially (in mystery solving terms), her Watson. In colonial town terms, he's her protector. I would like to know how this relationship came about, which is another reason I want to read the earlier books.
The setting is not specified as to year, but if I remember my American history well, it would have to be seventeenth century. The town is Newbury, Massachusetts; being a map-nut I pulled out the atlas and found a present-day "Newbury Old Town" a very short distance from both Newbury and Newburyport, north of Boston. I couldn't find another town mentioned, Niantic, but I figured it's probably about as far as today's Ipswich would be.
The plot revolves around two Quakers, Roger and Jane Whitcomb (brother and sister), who are sent by an old friend of the Williams family to live in Newbury under Catherine's protection. Neither Roger nor Jane act much like Quakers, especially Jane, and both immediately begin getting into trouble. This gets Catherine into trouble right along with them, because she is responsible for their behavior in the community.
I knew before reading this book that Quakers had been persecuted, but not so severely as depicted here. My only complaint about The Sea Hath Spoken is that I would have liked more information on and depiction of the Quaker element of the storyline. The book's title serves as a reminder that there is a mystery, perhaps even a murder, constantly underlying this complex plot. Eventually there is a murder on the page too. The details about the time period, and the many goings-on, were more than enough to keep me reading. I'd say that the mystery itself is somewhat thin and could have used more page-time, but it didn't really matter. I enjoyed the book.
Harriet Klausner; "Colonial history/mystery lovers will want to read this one.":
In Newbury, New England, Indian Massaquoit finds sea gulls eating the remains of a dead man. The captain of the nearby ship Good Hope owned by local resident Catherine Williams, who is also Massaquoit's employer, identifies the corpse as a sailor. The townsfolk wonder if Billy Lockhart drowned from too much to drink or did one of those traveling Quakers kill him?
Attending the Puritan religious services are two Quaker siblings, Roger and Jane
Whitcomb, as guests of Catherine. During the service, Roger takes exception to a comment by Minister Davis. Soon, a glove
is shoved down the visitor's throat leaving him choking to death. Massaquoit saves Roger's life. However, not long afterward, someone
succeeds in killing Roger. Though she rejected his beliefs, Catherine takes it personally that someone murdered her guest. She
begins her own inquiries.
The Sea Hath Spoken is a tremendous Colonial mystery that deserves a wide readership. The story line is well written, as seventeenth century life in New England seems so vividly alive. The who-done-it is fun and Catherine is quite the heroine. With a powerful support cast augmenting the plot with an insider's look at the times, Stephen Lewis hath spoken and readers will appreciate this tale and other novels (The Blind in Darkness and The Dumb Shall Sing) in this superb series.
Toby Bromberg, Romantic Times Magazine:
Newbury, Massachusetts is not known for tolerance and strangers are looked at askance. Midwife Catherine Williams usually takes a more lenient view of things but even she finds brother and sister Quakers Roger and Jane Whitcomb trying. Appointed Guardian, Catherine does not understand their behavior, which is at odds with what she knows of Quaker life. Complicating the picture is that the arrival of the Whitcombs happened at the same time as the death of a sailor from their ship.
Although Catherine feels some sympathy for the Whitcombs’ plight, she doesn’t have much time to spare for them. An unmarried patient has delivered and Catherine is going to do her best to make the father support the child. When one of the Whitcombs is killed, Catherine knows she must put her own case on the back burner to concentrate on the death.
The rich details of colonial life add a realistic touch to The Sea Hath Spoken. Although the mystery is slow to start, readers will enjoy the questions the puzzle raises, as well as the storyline about Catherine’s midwifery.
John Lee, The Suffolk County News:
This is the third book in a series of mysteries set in a small Connecticut town in the 16th century shortly after the end of the Pequot Wars. Lewis has done his research well, and the background about the small town and its mores is fascinating in itself. Mr. Lewis has assimilated this knowledge and introduces it more smoothly here than he did in his first book.
This one starts with the body of a sailor washing up on the Newbury beach. A ship belonging to the wealthy widow Catherine Williams, who is also the town midwife, is in the harbor. Close at hand is a Pequot Indian Chief, Massaquoit, or Matthew to give him his Christian name. Massaquoit's freedom was bought by Catherine some 15 years ago when a number of other chiefs were killed by the townsfolk. Together, the two of them have been responsible for solving a number of deaths in the small settlement.
The catalyst to this tale is the arrival of a brother and sister, both Quakers, looking for religious freedom. They are to stay with Catherine who, along with the townsfolk, are startled when Roger stands up in the meeting house and challenges the words of the town's minister.
Mr. Lewis does not pull his punches when describing the narrow-minded bigotry and cruelty of the townsfolk. Roger and his sister are taken through town, naked from the waist up, tethered to the tail of a cart, and whipped until they bleed.
Also examined is the hierarchy that has developed, headed by the governor, the magistrate and the minister. The tale becomes convoluted and involves the remnant of the native tribe as well as the philandering nephew of the governor who has come to America to convert the savages.
Not only has Mr. Lewis created a convincing background, but his depiction of the various characters is believable. Catherine is something of a feminist, but knows her place in that society and just how far she can push at the fringes of convention. The often edgy relationship between her and Massaquoit rings true as well.
The other nice thing about this book is that you don't have to have read the first two to understand what's going on in this one. Of course, if you don't read the other two, you will be depriving yourself of considerable.
P. Bigelow, Georgetown, Texas; "Outstanding series."
This is the third in a series set in pre-Colonial America and featuring Catherine Williams, midwife, and the
Native American Massaquoit.
In this outing, Catherine takes in her father's friends' children, Jane and Roger Whitcomb. Immediately there is trouble when the two young adults refuse to dampen their Quaker enthusiasm before the town elders who are Puritan - each religion thinks the other to be wrong-minded.
The book opens with the discovery of the body of a sailor from one of Catherine's ships. After a series of events leads to the death of one of the central people in this drama, Catherine and Massaquoit must solve the murder lest an innocent be unfairly convicted.
This is one of the outstanding historical series around, and with each outing, the characters become more developed and the plots more complex. Always present is the history of the period - not interfering with the character development or the plot but certainly an important part of each book.
If you're just discovering the series, I'd recommend that you begin with the first book, The Dumb Shall Sing, to familiarize yourself with how the unlikely pair of Catherine and Massaquoit meet and come to respect each other.
The only thing that concerns me is that 15 years have passed since the first book. Since Catherine was no youngster in the first book, she must be nearing elder stage by the day's standards. I don't want to think that Lewis will some day have Catherine leave this world and end the series.
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