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The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon
Historical fiction

The Frozen River

by Ariel Lawhon

Quick take

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

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Real-life-characters

    Real-life characters

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_GraphicViolence

    Graphic violence

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Serious


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.

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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.

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Get an early look from the first pages of The Frozen River.

Read a sample →

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