The Midwives by Duncan Ralston

Standalone Book - No Series
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A killer on the loose. A writer on the run. A town plagued by an ancient evil.

On tour with his latest book, true crime writer Martin Savage discovers one of his most-dangerous subjects has escaped. The so-called "Witch Hunter," a delusional murderer of women and their unborn children, holds a deadly grudge. He'll stop at nothing to get his revenge, and destroy everything Martin cares about.

With nowhere to run, Martin and forensic psychologist Sheila Tanner flee to the town he left when he was a boy, after his mother was locked away in a psychiatric facility. A town hidden deep in his past, where no one would think to look for them.

But things are not what they seem in Barrows Bay. The idyllic island holds terrible secrets. An ancient evil lived here long before the first Irish settlers crashed upon its shores in a coffin ship. An evil wearing the innocent faces of elderly midwives who've delivered every child in the Bay for two hundred and fifty years.

Martin and Sheila think they’re safe in his childhood home. But Martin’s mother has plans for them. Plans that require sacrifice.

And sacrifice requires blood.

'The first to speak in court sounds right, until the cross-examination begins,' Proverbs, 18:17.

Ah, the joy of parenthood – and the darkness of it…

Admission: I wasn’t sure before going in if this one would do it for me or not. Burned out by so many witchcraft stories being cheese-coated regurgitation, the Midwives is a refreshing change of pace that did not suffer from the same curse. Its fate instead was complex and eventually riveting; I ended up reading it in two sittings.

Witchcraft plays its role in the story, but with enough polish to stand out and flourish. Toss in a serial killer who livens up the story – especially when combined with a humorous town pariah – excellent results. Compelling characterization is where The Midwives excels past the mark, especially having Martin be the flawed man he is. Sheila is a worthy tag-along who brings feminism in to a storyline where the small town is dominated by these women who still embrace somewhat antiquated views on womanhood.

Ruby as the mother is particularly fascinating with her manic moods and the mysteries of her pursuits. Even the town itself, aptly named Barrow’s Bay, becomes a small character on its own. The remote, island type towns suits the ambience of a creepy horror story.

It’s not a first person, so we get to hop around in a few heads, but Martin leads the majority of the tale, as he should. He’s not the only focus, but he is the shining example of the opposite end of the point of faith.

A disconsolate landscape of human misery, horrible things happen – truly. Faith is mentioned as a manipulative weapon to allow much of this darkness to come to pass and hold the town in its grip; blind faith and behind-the-scenes manipulation. By a saving grace, faith becomes a symbol of hope for transformation for more than one character. The story may open with a long-standing tradition grounded in horrible origins, but it ends by showing that you can continue to evolve past your roots.

Having faith in who you can be, not just who you are, or origins of who you once were.

Violence and gore aren’t shied away from, particularly in the prologue that almost did border on cheesy, but everything happens for a reason – and some of these reasons may eventually surprise you with subtle magic. It’s brutal, but it gets your attention and makes a lasting impression. Five stars, and I don’t give those lightly to horror novels any more.

A horror story absolute, it remains true to the fairy-tale lore for witch tales of old. These aren’t women in gingerbread houses molding traps to snare wandering children, but they’re not far off from it either. If you want a modern day, twisted fairy-tale type of story that is both dark and gripping – this is the one.

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