Everyone in the Hungarian village of Nagyrév knew Auntie Suzie could cure what ailed you. Feeble newborn? Troublesome son? Erring husband? As the official village midwife and de facto doctor, Auntie Suzy put her vast Romany folk medicine knowledge to work. She had poultices and potions, tinctures and tisanes, suitable for any trouble. In fact, one special elixir Auntie Suzie lovingly brewed from vinegar and fly paper was especially effective. Just a drop rubbed on an infant’s gums, or teaspoon mixed into soup or water, and the villager’s problem would be solved forever.
In the 1920s Nagyrév was still very much ruled by the rhythms of farm life and centuries-old customs and folkways. The village crier delivered the news; black-clad women gathered at the well to exchange gossip; goose girls guided the flocks; villagers gathered for festivals and feast days; the bellringer tolled the church bell for deaths. Traditional but not ignorant, because Auntie Suzie’s special elixir that she willingly shared with midwives in surrounding villages was an open secret. A secret anonymously shared with village officials. And even if Nagyrév seemed locked in time, science did exist. The science to exhume bodies, take organ samples and test for the presence of arsenic.
The Angel Makers by Patti McCracken is a richly detailed true crime narrative that will transport you back to a time when calling the midwife might just mean murder.