Saturday, April 14, 2018

Book Reviews: A Stellar Medieval Mystery Series!

The Pine Valley branch of the San Diego County Library
Last fall, after checking out my books from our little county library branch (which is basically the social hub of our mountain village of 1500 souls), I stopped at the book cart by the door to peruse the donated books for sale. I soon found two books in a mystery series set in medieval England and snatched them up for a quarter each. While I am usually adamant about reading a book series in order, one book was the second in the series, so I felt that I'd be starting close enough to the beginning and could order the rest from the library.

And I became hooked. I love historical mysteries, and this one was meticulously researched and showed the daily life of Oxford in the 1160s. I quickly liked the humble Hugh de Singleton, a young surgeon just starting his career. His turn of thought was intriguing, and the way in which faith and the church were so integrated into daily life in this time and place was fascinating. Only twenty pages into the second book of the series and with the fourth book already purchased, I quickly ordered the first and third books from the library and settled into a new favorite mystery series.

Here are my reviews of the sixth and seventh books of the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon by Mel Starr:

Rest Not in Peace Rest Not in Peace by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sixth adventure/mystery of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon, involves a murder in Bampton Castle where Hugh also works as bailiff to Lord Gilbert. Sir Henry, a former soldier who fought alongside Lord Gilbert, dies taking one of Hugh's remedies for sleeplessness. Lady Margery immediately accuses Hugh of murder, but Hugh discovers a very sneaky way in which Sir Henry was killed while he was sleeping deeply because of Hugh's remedy. More suspects start to line up among Sir Henry's knights and staff. Lady Margery makes herself decidedly unwelcome at Bampton Castle, and Lord Gilbert tries to hurry Hugh in his sleuthing, as always aided by Hugh's lovely and very insightful wife, Kate.

This series is just so consistently amazing in its accurate portrayal of life in a medieval English village near Oxford in the late 1360s. The author has certainly done his homework into life in Bampton; there really was a Lord Gilbert Talbot with his wife Lady Petronilla who lived at Bampton Castle during this time period. In fact, there are a few ruins of the castle still visible about the town of Bampton (where many of the village scenes from Downton Abbey were filmed). The living by the church bells and saints' days is shown as well as the dangers of the time, the food served both at the castle and at Galen House where Hugh, Kate, and Baby Bessie live, plus the different medieval occupations and levels of society are well-researched. Even the turn of phrase throughout the books never allows readers to forget the time period in which these mysteries are set.

I am now placing my order with the library for Book #7 in the Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon Chronicles. Such a brilliant series!!

The Abbot's Agreement The Abbot's Agreement by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another wonderful medieval mystery set in Bampton--or near Bampton, in this case, for this seventh mystery in the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon. Also bailiff to Sir Gilbert, Hugh de Singleton is on his way to Oxford to purchase or commission a Bible; his trusty personal guard Arthur traveling with him for safety. Nearing an abbey where they have helped solve a mystery previously, they come across the body of a young man which has been set upon by ravens and other forest creatures. Despite the body's level of decomposition and damage from birds and other creatures, Hugh discovers that the cause of death was murder. The aging abbot, recalling Hugh's facility in solving past mysteries, offers to commission a Bible for him from the abbey's scribes if he will stay and solve the murder. Hugh agrees.

But mysterious circumstance after mysterious circumstance build, confusing Hugh and Arthur as to the identity of the murderer. Another attempted murder within the abbey walls adds to the dilemma, besides the fact that Hugh's wife, Kate, is nearing the birth of their second child, and he hates to be away from home at this time.

Another terrific medieval "who-dunnit," meticulously researched and wonderfully suspenseful!! I am sooooooo enjoying this series!!

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And yes, I am ordering the eighth book in the series as soon as I get halfway through my current library book. 

Reading with you, 

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