A den of scholarly vipersby Patto
In the third chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon and bailiff, Hugh is asked to find twenty-two books that were stolen from John Wyclif (fourteenth-century theologian and church reformer), who was Hugh’s mentor at Oxford.
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.original review