By Edith Maxwell
Quaker midwife Rose Carroll doesn’t let the cold of the 1889 Massachusetts winter stop her from checking on the pregnant women under her care, as well as those she’s already helped bring new life into the world. But sometimes, she’s faced with a crisis she’s not prepared to handle on her own. This is the case when Rose looks in on Charity Skells, a poor woman who’s recently given birth to her fifth child, and now appears to be suffering a miscarriage. Rose quickly has the woman admitted to the local hospital, but Charity dies. Her death hits Rose hard, and she wonders what else she could have done. Charity’s parents have nothing good to say about their son-in-law, Ransom Skells, and hold him responsible for neglecting his wife, thereby leading to her death.
The more she thinks about Charity’s symptoms, the more Rose believes that Charity was the victim of a botched mechanical abortion—a forbidden procedure. Rose begins to ask questions about locals who advertise “medical help for women in need,” and learns that Charity’s husband may be involved with a young woman whose mother is suspected of offering illegal abortions. A coincidence? Or something much more sinister? She also meets a disgraced local physician who apparently offers the same service, but when she confronts him with her suspicions, he denies it. With more suspects emerging, there’s another, brutal death, and this time there’s no doubt it was murder. Rose is anxious to share what she’s learning with her usual ally, Detective Kevin Donovan. But there’s a new police chief in town who forbids Rose to get involved.
“Charity’s Burden” is the fourth in Edith Maxwell’s Quaker Midwife mystery series. Not only is it a well-plotted, intelligent mystery, it also shines light on how women were treated—and, in many cases, mistreated—by people they trusted for help in desperate situations. Highly recommended.