A Trail of Ink: The Third Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon
Monarch Books (2011)
Reviewed by Marty Shaw for Reader Views (5/11)
Get ready to step back in time with Hugh de Singleton, surgeon and bailiff of Bampton Castle, as he sets off to solve a crime while stealing a woman’s heart at the same time.
Mel Starr’s “A Trail of Ink: The Third Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon” is a lively mystery cloaked within the setting of 14th century Oxford. Hugh’s scholarly friend has had twenty-two books stolen from him and seeks Hugh’s assistance in finding his property. Hugh is more than willing to put his deductive skills to use to help his friend, and the crime provides a good reason to spend extra time in Oxford so that he can pursue a more personal mission – to win the heart of the lovely Kate.
Hugh is a great main character, an ordinary man with a keen sense of observation and a highly developed sense of deduction. While it probably would have been easy for him to come across as dry and boring, his humanity and love of life makes him easy to relate to. Even though he exists in a different time period, Hugh has the same dreams, aspirations, and fears shared by just about everyone. Even though his skills make him uniquely qualified to handle the crime-solving tasks, he’s far from being perfect, which just adds to the realism of him. Hugh and his 14th century environment are written with such depth and attention to detail, that I often found myself forgetting that I was actually reading a work of fiction. The first-person narrative, combined with Starr’s attention to the time period, provides a perfect illusion of reading the journal of a crime-solving surgeon that really existed.
There’s no doubt that Hugh is the main character, but the author also took time to fill the supporting characters with the same depth and sense of life. Kate, the woman Hugh seeks to wed, is close to being his equal when it comes to observation, and although she respects the laws of her time, she’s quick to show that she has more to offer than simply keeping the home fires burning while ‘the man’ takes care of business.
Hugh’s assistant, Arthur, was a personal favorite of mine. The “sturdy fellow” doesn’t have Hugh’s high station so has learned to enjoy the simpler things in life, but being a member of a lower class doesn’t mean Arthur is a simpleton. His less complicated views of the world occasionally provide insight that Hugh might not have otherwise considered.
I was turned off ‘period piece’ mysteries by the dry writing style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, but Starr’s intrepid surgeon has made me hungry for more. If you enjoy a good mystery filled with believable and enjoyable characters, then the chronicles of Hugh de Singleton in “A Trail of Ink” will provide the perfect entertainment.