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A Trail of Ink (Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon) Paperback – January 3, 2011
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About the Author
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.
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It seems likely (but not certain) that the theft is connected with someone at the university, which Hugh describes as "a den of scholarly vipers." Hugh's investigation meanders at first, but in the end there are enough fights, wounds and deaths to warrant calling this academic mystery "action packed."
How Aristotle and Euclid could incite murder and mayhem might perplex modern readers, but in medieval times books were precious and pricey. A scholar rarely acquired as many as twenty books in a lifetime.
Author Mel Starr, historian and scholar of medieval surgery, gives us a fascinating picture of medieval life among scholars, lords, sheriffs, surgeons, shopkeepers, monks and marriageable young women.
I always look forward to dinner in these books too - fabulous fare like pork in pepper sauce, pear-and-herb fritters and eels baked in vinegar and spices.
In A Trail of Ink, Hugh divides his time between finding Wyclif's books and courting Kate, an Oxford stationer's comely daughter. Both pursuits turn out to be life threatening.
Although Hugh is a brilliant surgeon, he's a timid lover and a self-effacing (though determined) investigator. He faithfully chronicles all his mistakes and ineptitudes, and when he succeeds, credits the Lord. He also invites and listens to advice. His modesty is quite charming.
I'm enjoying this series. When I'm reading escapist literature, I'm always pleased to learn something, and Mel Starr is a good medievalist. For fullest enjoyment of Hugh de Singleton's thoughtful character, I'd recommend reading the chronicles in order: (1) Unquiet Bones, (2) A Corpse at St. Andrew's Chapel and (3) A Trail of Ink.
This adventure begins with a call for help to Hugh from his old teacher, Master John Wyclif, who has appeared in the prior book. It seems all of his books have been stolen from his home and Master Wyclif is not getting from much help from the local law enforcement regarding the theft. As part of his investigation, Hugh visits all the local stationer shops and book sellers. So he visits Kate at her father's stationer shop partly to inquire after the stolen books, but also to see Kate. He has gained permission from her father to court her, but when he arrives at the shop there is another man there who is trying to gain Kate's favor. This new competition for Kate is none other than the local law enforcement's son. Hugh must juggle his responsibilities to Lord Gilbert as surgeon and bailiff, solve his former teacher's mystery, and woo Kate as he has neglected her for a few months.
Hugh begins questioning the people who live near Master Wyclif with Kate along and she makes a discovery that furthers the investigation. Hugh finds Kate intelligent, thoughtful and logical. Who would want to steal a teacher's books? Two of the books are sold by a poor struggling student at Oxford who is found dead in the river. Did he kill himself due to his poor situation or was he murdered? Here is another mystery for Hugh to solve. With Kate and his trusty helper, Arthur, by his side, Hugh continues to follow the clues to solve the mysteries. Can he win Kate's heart and her hand in marriage? After all, his competition is higher up on the social ladder than he. Is one of the church staff involved in the theft? Does someone from Hugh's recent past appear in this mystery as well?
I am enjoying this series greatly as Hugh matures and gains experience in life that helps him toward a brighter future. He thinks about where God is during his sleuthing and His place in Hugh's life. I'm looking forward to the fourth book, so stay tuned to read my review.
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.