A Maine midwife proves herself a tenacious advocate for justice when a local man with a few secrets is put on trial.
Good to know
Maine, 1789: When the Kennebec River freezes, entombing a man in the ice, Martha Ballard is summoned to examine the body and determine cause of death. As a midwife and healer, she is privy to much of what goes on behind closed doors in Hallowell. Her diary is a record of every birth and death, crime and debacle that unfolds in the close-knit community. Months earlier, Martha documented the details of an alleged rape committed by two of the town’s most respected gentlemen—one of whom has now been found dead in the ice. But when a local physician undermines her conclusion, declaring the death to be an accident, Martha is forced to investigate the shocking murder on her own.
Over the course of one winter, as the trial nears, and whispers and prejudices mount, Martha doggedly pursues the truth. Her diary soon lands at the center of the scandal, implicating those she loves, and compelling Martha to decide where her own loyalties lie.
Why I love it
Patti Callahan Henry
Author, The Secret Book of Flora Lea
Historical fiction can be a powerful tool for reclamation. And I’m especially riveted by stories that uplift overlooked women of distinction. In The Frozen River, Ariel Lawhon’s storytelling prowess brings to life a lost heroine, offering a powerful tribute to women who assert themselves in an inhospitable world.
When a man is found entombed in the frozen Kennebec River of Hallowell, Maine, in the year 1789, healer and midwife Martha Ballard is summoned to examine the body. From that moment, in the back room of the local pub, she is thrust into the middle of a trial and scandal that will change American history. Her daily and detailed diary is brought as evidence and just might implicate those she loves. Still, she pursues truth and justice in a world where women aren’t valued, where they are meant to be seen and not heard.
Complex and immersive, this lost-to-time true murder mystery unfolds over one long Maine winter as Martha’s husband, children, town, and life are reshaped forever. With sentences that take the breath away, Lawhon tackles women’s roles, motherhood, writing, and love.
I finished the last page with a resolve to share this novel with everyone who will listen. One of our finest historical novelists writing today, Lawhon has penned a breathtaking and page-turning murder mystery layered with deep truths. Martha Ballard was a heroine in her day, and now thanks to Lawhon, she is a heroine for all of us.
Member ratings (3,069)
The mix of history and fiction makes a compelling read – this is a book that is hard to set down. The characters and their personalities unfold in a way that is easy to become attached to as a reader
Cuyahoga Falls, OH
Wow this book! I have been in a book slump but this book made me want to read it 24/7. I haven’t wanted to read like this in a long time! I felt like I was with Martha and living in the 1700s. So good
Definitely a favorite of 2024 so far. A touching story of midwifery and women helping women in the 1700’s, based on a real woman and her journals. Amazing story with fascinating characters and history
This book has been everywhere! I read it along with bookclub and we had a wonderful discussion on Discord last week. The time period, the thoughts on motherhood and women's work, and the best marriage
Adored this. Love this kind of historical fiction that drips ambience. I found the final confrontation to be a bit anachronistic/tonally inconsistent with the rest of the book, but still loved overall