When midwife Martha Ballard is called to inspect the body of a man found frozen in the Kennebec River, the last person she expects it to be is the accused rapist of one of her patients – and when she determines that he has been murdered, the situation only becomes more complex.
I first heard about Martha Ballard a few months ago, when I picked up the Pulitzer Prize-winning book based on her life (A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich). While I have not read it yet, Ballard’s name was fresh on my mind when I came across The Frozen River, and that on top of the intriguing premise persuaded me to move it up my TBR list.
This is an oddly tough book to explain, because I really don’t want to spoil the story. The blurb mentions the mystery of who killed Joshua Burgess, but there’s rather more focus in the story on the case of Rebecca Foster, as well as Martha’s daily life in a community split on the veracity of Rebecca’s story. The characters are complex and vividly drawn, the writing picturesque without becoming overblown, which made me feel like I was really getting an insight into daily life in post-Revolutionary New England.
However, I had a couple of small complaints that, gathered together, lowered my rating of the book. I wasn’t fully sure that the flashbacks into Martha’s past were completely needed, as it interrupted the flow of the story for me – and much of the information is relayed in the main storyline anyway. Also, while I enjoyed reading about the loving relationship between Martha and her husband Ephraim, I thought a couple of those scenes could have been cut, as they slowed down the pace in an already lengthy book.