Thursday, September 12, 2019

Book Review: Judge Thee Not by Edith Maxwell (Quaker Midwife Mysteries #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Enjoyable mystery and characters
Cons: Pacing hurts mystery; how theme is handled
The Bottom Line:
Rose steps in again
When friend accused of murder
Plot not quite pulled off

I’m Still Trying to Judge My Reaction to This Book

If I’d been paying more attention to what the book was about, I might not have picked up Judge Thee Not, the fifth Quaker Midwife mystery from Edith Maxwell.  It isn’t that I don’t enjoy her books; I’ve been reading her for years, after all.  But parts of the subject matter of this historical mystery ventured into the modern political realm, and that was my biggest issue with the book.

Midwife Rose Carroll is surprised to step into the Amesbury, Mass., post office one June afternoon and find Mayme Settle complaining loudly about postmistress Bertie Winslow.  The problem isn’t poor service but Bertie’s untraditional lifestyle, specifically that she lives with another woman.  Mrs. Settle doesn’t feel this is proper, and is making her feelings known.  While Rose is upset for her friend, Bertie is more than willing to let the slight go.

However, one morning Mrs. Settle is found dead in her bed, and the police are quick to rule it murder.  Unfortunately, they are just as quick to focus on Bertie as their prime suspect.  Can Rose help the police find the truth?

Before we get into my biggest issues with the book, let’s do the usual discussion of plot and characters.  The plot was good, with several viable suspects and good twists along the way.  I did feel the pacing was off at the beginning and the end, however, and the result was that it didn’t quite pull off the ending.  Mind you, the ending is logical, but in the rush to wrap things up, we get a lot of information thrown at us all at once.

Most of the characters are good.  Rose herself is a great lead character, which isn’t unusual.  I like Bertie and David, Rose’s fiancĂ©.  There are some interesting developments with her family that I enjoyed as well.  The suspects were strong, with believable motives, and are developed enough to keep us guessing until the end.  However, I felt Mrs. Settle, the victim, was a bit of a clichĂ©.  She might have been a better fleshed out character if she had lived, but as she was presented here, I found her all too familiar, and not in a good way.

Which brings me to my biggest issue with the book – the theme.  Don’t misunderstand, I certainly agree that judging others can be wrong.  The character of a blind woman and how she is treated is a perfect case in point.  And, for the record, I LOVED this new character and hope we see more of her in the future.  However, too much today is immediately put in the realm of judging others when that may not be the intent.  Ironically enough, by calling someone out on judging others, you can be judging them yourself.  This book quotes Matthew 7:1 at one point, which isn’t surprising since that verse gave the book its title.  However, two verses later in Matthew 7, we get a passage about removing the log in your own eye before you go to your brother to tell them about the speck in their eye.  The point of that passage?  We need to confront people who are wrong, but we need to do it with humility and grace and not harshly making sure our motives are pure.  However, any disagreement today is considered judging and shut down on the spot.

And that’s where I felt the book was leaving the historical setting aside.  While there may have been some people back in the 1880’s who had Rose’s attitude toward Bertie, I felt like these views were presented in a more modern way than they would have been for even the most progressive people of that age.  Mind you, I haven’t done the research, so I could easily be way off base.  Yes, I am now judging without all the facts, but it still felt like a stretch to me and put me out of the book a few times.  And there was no effort to show why anyone would have the views they did back in the 1880’s, which seems like a minimum to help show the historical context.  Instead, we just get Rose coming very close to judging people for their attitudes judging others.

Mind you, I am reacting to a small portion of the book.  This is a mystery and it focuses on that more than anything else, but there were enough of these scenes to bother me.

In the end, I am rating the book based solely on the mystery, which doesn’t quite pull off what it wants to do while still being enjoyable.  If you have enjoyed meeting Rose in the past, you’ll want to judge for yourself Judge Thee Not.

Looking for more visits to the past with Rose?  Here are the rest of the Quaker Midwife Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.

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