I bought The Last Midwife after I received a gift card to Barnes and Nobles as a Christmas present. I remember agonizing over choosing one of two books that cost $16 dollars (paperback prices have increased) and I chose this one. After finishing it I kind of regret my decision.
The basic plot of the book is that Gracy, who is the last midwife in a small Colorado mining area, is accused of murdering an infant and the town begins to split itself as to whether she did it or not and who did murder the infant. The main character was decent, the author loved the time and place (1880 Colorado) and put a lot of time into making the setting seem real and she has a sincere dedication to recreating the realistic attitudes of a small mining town in the late 1800’s (although I am giving her the benefit of the doubt on this).
However, the book appears to be two books that have been wrapped into one. Despite that the entire plot of the book is described as a murder mystery it doesn’t factor much into the story. Instead of the murder being a constant source of tension or thought it is really only brought up when the next stage begins. Despite the book advertising the town tearing itself apart this is only shown in the courtroom scenes (which account for less than 1/5 of the book) and a chapter, the rest of the time it is only talked about in passing. The creation of evidence against Gracy is only in about 20 pages of the book and they barely speculate on who actually killed the child. Time that could be spent preparing a legal defense never occurs because we never have a scene of Gracy talking with her lawyer before the trial and the defense seems to be made on the fly despite the evidence not changing. The rest of the book is dedicated to exploring the rest of Gracy’s life which I honestly enjoyed much more and there are a few compelling stories in it that would have been great if they were fleshed out more. Those would also be more fulfilling as the ending leaves open many plot holes if you think about it. Finally there are a few weird morals to the story that I am just going to chalk up to the author really trying to recreate the morals of the masculine dominated society but can be incredibly sexist if those are what is meant to be taken away from the book.
I know I’ve gone on for a long time but this part deserves its own paragraph. The book has a weird incest rape revelation in the last 10 pages of the book that is entirely pointless within that short time. What I mean by pointless is that while it could be argued that it provides motivation for the plot starting event – there were already a few reasons that I could come up with that don’t open up major plot holes if you think about it for a second and don’t change the progression of events or the character’s personality. And in my opinion you shouldn’t add something as horrifying as incestuous rape into your book if it doesn’t serve a vital function. I honestly don’t know why that was included as it was only speculated on at the beginning of the novel and then brought up at the end and turned out to be entirely meaningless. To be clear it wasn’t described it is instead relayed by a character who is barely present in the story.
I would recommend with reservations mainly because it was an average historical fiction book until that ending and I really love historical fiction. However, I would only recommend this book to people if they enjoy historical fiction as much as I do and are willing to put up with some undeveloped themes (I honestly don’t have time to get into it), weird gender politics, no character development (don’t have time) and a totally bullshit ending. However, if you are willing to try reading this book and skip all the murder and trial sections I think it could be a great book.
Review Submitted by: Madeline Rivard
Rating: Recommended with reservations