When a dead body is found at the foot of an ancient oak, a tense plot begins. The Prophet is the second Martine Bailey novel to feature the characters of Tabitha and Nat De Vallory, first seen in The Almanack. The oak tree in question is not just any tree; it is the Mondren Oak, and nearby an evangelist preacher and his community have made an encampment in ancient woodland belonging to Nat’s father.
Eighteenth-century England was a place of superstition and myth, of religious fervour and persecution. It was also a time of scientific study and enlightenment. The body of a young woman is found on May Day, 1753. The date is significant and the novel’s action winds up slowly in pace and tension towards Midsummer’s Day, coincidentally the due date for the arrival of Tabitha and Nat’s first baby. Baptist Gunn and his growing number of followers believe a new saviour will be born close to the oak tree on Midsummer’s Day. Gunn, a ‘sleeping prophet’, is gathering his congregation, and money, in preparation to sail for a new life in America.
Tabitha is a likeable protagonist, happy to be married and living in the place where she grew up, but challenged by the new monied life she leads. Her colourful background comes in handy when she determines to seek the woman’s murderer. Heavily pregnant, she makes an eye-catching amateur detective. Advised by her doctor to avoid shock, surprise, and the night-time attentions of her husband, Tabitha feels distanced from Nat. She distrusts the claims of Baptist Gunn and fears he is a fraudster. Meanwhile Nat seeks the preacher’s company, keen to run a scientific experiment studying the veracity of prophecies. Eager to support his ailing father and needing to establish his authority in the community as heir to the estate, Nat takes risks that Tabitha fears endanger their lives.
Are our lives governed by fate and can this be forseen by a privileged few? Why do some people trustingly accept claims and predictions without examination, while others demand proof and evidence? Bailey’s novel is a historical reminder to the 21st century not to believe everything you hear without an analysis of motivation, fact and context.
The Prophet is an unusual historical mystery rooted in an ancient Cheshire woodland. Bailey has created an authentic rural community which lightly bears the depth of her historical research. Watch out for the plot surprises, the secrets and lies.
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I read the first Tabitha Hart historical mystery, not knowing it was the first in a series. Here’s my review of The Almanack. The Prophet can be read as a standalone novel.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE PROPHET by @MartineBailey #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5er via @SandraDanby