by Mel Starr
Release Date: February 28, 2011
2011 Monarch Books
Softcover Edition; 240 Pages
Genre: Historical Mystery
Source: Review Copy provided by Liftuse Blog Tours
Some valuable books have been stolen from Master John Wyclif, the well known scholar and Bible translator. He calls upon his friend and former pupil, Hugh de Singleton, to investigate. Hugh's investigation leads him to Oxford where he again encounters Kate, the only woman who has tempted him to leave bachelor life behind, but Kate has another serious suitor. As Hugh's pursuit of Kate becomes more successful, mysterious accidents begin to occur. Are these accidents tied to the missing books, or to his pursuit of Kate?
One of the stolen books turns up alongside the drowned body of a poor Oxford scholar. Another accident? Hugh certainly doesn t think so, but it will take all of his surgeon s skills to prove.
So begins another delightful and intriguing tale from the life of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon in the medieval village of Bampton. Masterfully researched by medieval scholar Mel Starr, the setting of the novel can be visited and recognized in modern-day England. Enjoy more of Hugh s dry wit, romantic interests, evolving faith, and dogged determination as he pursues his third case as bailiff of Bampton.
As always, it takes me several chapters to get used to the style of writing in these novels as Mr. Starr chooses to use language that is more appropriate to the style of the time. While I can adapt and even enjoy the style of the time, some readers may have difficulty with this and it may even be unappealing to some. Thankfully, a glossary is provided at the beginning of the book which enables the reader to check some of the words and terms and understand what is being talked about. It does slow down the development of the plot and characters if you are constantly checking, but perseverance does pay off as this was an interesting mystery, with a lot of depth and interesting detail of fourteenth century life.
I absolutely love historical fiction and appreciate the enormous amount of research an author has to do to bring a period to life in such a way. From the archaic way the people spoke, to the way they dressed, to the food they ate, and to their living conditions, the novel held a fascinating description of life in all of its forms. I was especially interested in the practice of medicine and the thoughts and beliefs that people practiced during that time. The court system was also interesting, and how closely Hugh came to being hanged based on the word of a noble was downright scary. And when he claimed the Benefit of Clergy in order to save his life, something I had never heard of, Hugh had to read a Bible passage in Latin perfectly and the 'judge' would decide if he read it perfectly or not. It was a joke as the judge could already have it in for you and if he decides you're guilty, you're guilty. The judge and the sheriff were the same person in this case, someone who had it in for Hugh. Scary stuff!! It was interesting to me that someone in the clergy would not be present to see if the passage was read correctly as the 'judge' may not even be able to read Latin.
I really like the way historical figures were presented in a candid way, with their problems laid out before them realistically. It took me a few chapters to realize that the John Wyclif portrayed in the novel was the man who would become famous for his English Bible translations. In this novel he was just a man trying to deal with the constant conflict between the secular and religious scholars.
One of my concerns with this novel was the plot. While the story was filled with interesting and charming characters and fascinating tidbits of the time period, the plot took a long time to get going and I wasn't totally certain exactly what the mystery was about until many chapters into the novel. It wasn't until Hugh was captured and jailed that I really found myself into the novel and captivated from that point on. Until that point, I felt like I was reading just to read. While I love reading from the first person, I do find that it is more difficult to weave more complex plot elements from that viewpoint. I also found the ending was somewhat abrupt and didn't quite tie up all the loose elements. Despite this, I enjoyed the novel and all its various quirks, and I definitely love the teaser in the final paragraph.
A Trail of Ink is a fascinating description of fourteenth century life as Hugh searches for lost books. While that doesn't seem like much today, twenty-two books would have been a fortune for a monk during this time period. While the plot took a long time to pick up speed, once it did, it hooked me completely and I was fascinated and enthralled. With a less than satisfying ending, it did leave off with a tantalyzing hook for the next book in the series, Unhallowed Ground, which I am really looking forward to reading. What Mel Starr does so well, however, is make you feel as if you're standing in fourteenth century England, with vivid descriptions and beautiful attention to detail. All in all it was a satisfying read.
Mel Starr was born and grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. After graduating with a MA in history from Western Michigan University in 1970, he taught history in Michigan public schools for thirty-nine years, thirty-five of those in Portage, MI, where he retired in 2003 as chairman of the social studies department of Portage Northern High School. Mel and his wife, Susan, have two daughters and seven grandchildren. http://www.melstarr.org/
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