A Trail of Ink by Mel Starr

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A Trail of Ink made me laugh.

Hugh de Singleton, a medieval surgeon with a gift for solving mysteries, inherits a delightfully dry sense of humor from his creator, Mel Starr. It's a pleasure to witness the irony, the wit, and the tongue-in-cheek remarks from the viewpoint of the book's humble protagonist. This is one impression that's stayed with me after finishing this excellent work.

History buffs will fancy another outstanding aspect of the book: the skill with which Starr relates intriguing details about the time and place of 14th century Oxford, England.

I noticed it first in the language, which is no surprise, given that Starr has studied medieval English. The book is clear and understandable to the average reader, but Starr treats us to a writing style that brings medieval England to life. Here's the opening of chapter one to show you what I mean:

I had never seen Master John Wyclif so afflicted. He was rarely found at such a loss when in disputation with other masters. He told me later, when I had returned them to him, that it was as onerous to plunder a bachelor scholar's books as it would be to steal another man's wife. I had, at the time, no way to assess the accuracy of that opinion, for I had no wife and few books.

He also has a pleasantly subtle way of teaching little-known facts about everyday life for people like Hugh. I didn't pick up the novel to learn history per se, but I sure picked up some interesting gems along the way. I learned about the St Scholastica Day riot, for instance, as Hugh enters a tavern one morning in pursuit of a suspect:

The place was newly opened for business but had not yet attracted custom. I ordered a cup of wine and settled myself at a bench. The wine was well watered and I wondered that the mayor and sheriff did not fine the fellow. Just such practice caused the terrible St Scholastica Day riots that took so many lives when I was new come to Oxford.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed how Starr weaves the Christian faith into the story through Hugh's first-person perspective. Hugh is much like the rest of us in that the challenges he encounters lead him to reflect on questions of faith, like when a friend in need compels him to put his faith into action:

Master John believes in prayer, but my promise to petition our Lord Christ on his behalf seemed to bring him small comfort. I think he would rather have my time and effort than my prayers. Or would have both. Prayers may be offered cheaply. They require small effort from men, and much from God. The Lord Christ has told us we may ask of Him what we will, but I suspect He would be pleased to see men set to their work, and call upon Him only when tasks be beyond them.

This is the first I've read in the three-book series. I heard it was a great stand-alone novel, and it is. I look forward to catching up on the first two and to the release of book four.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for a review. My thanks to Monarch Books and LitFuse Publicity.

About A Trail of Ink:
An excellent medieval whodunit by the author of The Unquiet Bones and A Corpse at St Andrew's Chapel

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.

About Mel Starr:
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. www.melstarr.org

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