Book Review: Unhallowed Ground by Melvin R Starr

Once I started reading this series featuring Hugh de Singleton by Melvin R Starr, I couldn’t stop. Searching for historical fiction that really captured a specific era (I was looking for the late 1300s, early 1400s) but was tight, well written and engaging proved harder than I initially thought – in that, I had already read so many good novels, it was hard to find new materialUnhallowed Ground (Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon Chronicles #4). That was, until I stumbled upon Starr’s series.

The fourth book in the Hugh de Singleton series, the surgeon who becomes a bailiff to Lord Gilbert Talbot (he of the arching brow), Unhallowed Ground is probably grimmer and darker than the other books in one way and yet, in another, also has a delightful and quite charming parallel narrative as Hugh is no longer a bachelor and early in the book he receives some wonderful news that will change his and Kate’s lives.

The tale commences with the death of a character we’ve come to know and loathe from an earlier book, the violent and manipulative Thomas Atte Bridge. Discovered hanging from a tree at the crossroads, it’s first believed that the man committed suicide, only, Hugh and Thomas’ poor wife, don’t believe that to be the case.

But when Hugh’s investigation uncovers a ream of suspects, all of whom not only had good reason to do away with Atte Bridge, but are decent upstanding citizens as well, Hugh finds himself facing a serious moral dilemma. When his investigation uncovers a criminal prepared to harm more than a villain, but Hugh and his wife, the bailiff’s anger is roused and he stops at nothing to find out who’s the culprit and why they’re prepared to go to such lengths to stop him discovering their identity. Only this time, the answers are not what Hugh expects…

Against the backdrop of the investigation, life at the manor and within the surrounding village is gently drawn. The reader follows Hugh on his investigations and intellectual peregrinations as he tries to fathom who the most likely culprit might be. In this book, we are also given a peek into married life and the role of a new wife and doting husband – and it’s utterly charming but realistically drawn as well. Likewise, the travels that Hugh undertakes as he seeks the killer, the insights into professional roles and respect for skills, medical, surgical, carpentry, horsemanship etc. are also lightly but accurately drawn.

These books are like a time capsule into a world and time past, but as I say repeatedly in my reviews, without sacrificing story. The pace can be slow, but the writing is always elegant and the characters beautifully drawn. Another delightful read.

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Book Review: A Trail of Ink by Melvin R Starr

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 CA Trail of Ink (Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon Chronicles #3)axton.

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.

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