The third book in the Hugh de Singleton series by Melvin R Starr is, thus far, my favourite. Commencing from where Book Two, A Corpse at St Andrew’s Chapel leaves off, it focuses on Hugh’s hunt for his former master, John Wyclif of Oxford’s missing books.
Thrown into life in medieval Oxford, a university town where the schism between “townies” and “gownies” is very real, Hugh must cope with the prejudices of those accorded the privileges that come with titles, even if it means remaining silent while one of these titled men steps out with the young woman to whom Hugh is fast losing his heart, the intelligent and sparkling Kate Caxton.
Filled to the brim with characters of the villainous and noble kind (not of blood, but personality), trips to academic halls, taverns, castles and medieval roadways, murders, medicines and mayhem, the novel is also peppered with the hopeless attempts at romance and the flirting of Hugh. These clumsy efforts further endear him to the reader, but not to his rival for Kate’s affections, Sir Simon.
Soon, it’s not the missing books that Hugh has to worry about so much as himself.
Once again, Starr throws the reader into the violent, heady and slower pace of medieval life, describing clothes, meals, rites and faith with a deft but subtle touch that never detracts from the pace or story. Whether Hugh is being a surgeon, bailiff, detective or lover, he’s at all times believable and complete lovable.
A terrific addition to the series.
Tags: A Trail of Ink, Hugh de Singelton, John Wyclif, medieval whodunnit, Melvin R Starr, murder, Oxford, surgery
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The second book in Starr’s series about Hugh de Singleton, surgeon and bailiff for Lord Gilbert Talbot, centres on solving the murder of the beadle of Bampton, Alan. Found outside St Andrew’s Chapel, Alan has had his throat ripped out and mysterious marks on his body. The coroner decides it was a wolf that killed him. Hugh, of course, isn’t convinced and so sets out to discover just who or what took the beadle’s life. Only, his investigations put his own at risk and, when he’s attacked late one night, he understands that the killer may be closer than he thinks…
In Hugh de Singleton, Starr has created the most unlikely of heroes. By his own admission, he’s not very handsome, athletic or even brave. Hugh nonetheless manages to be incredibly endearing, loyal and even, occasionally, funny (eg. He longs (in each book) to be able to arch his brow like his lord and fails). More than capable of negotiating with belligerent villagers or extracting what he wants from a lord who’s obviously glad to have his capable services, Hugh is also highly intelligent and patient. So is the story. Bringing the period (1365) to life with fabulous detail – but details that don’t detract from the story – and ambience, the daily life of a surgeon and bailiff and all the characters that make up local towns and villages and the laws, hierarchy and faith that bind them together are brought to life.
What are of particular interest with these books as well are the medical procedures, which are unpacked for the reader, sometimes in wince-worthy ways. Likewise, the food, the rituals and the expectations placed upon an individual due to their sex or roles are beautifully explored.
This is an easy and engaging read that should keep lovers of good historical fiction and mysteries more than satisfied.
Tags: 1365, A Corpse at St Andrew's Chapel, bailiff, Hugh de Singelton, medieval mystery, Melvin R Starr, Oxford, surgeon
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