Sunday, March 29th, 2009
The Short Take:
Set in England in the 1360s, this novel paints a fascinating portrait of the times as well as offering a mystery that reveals itself in unexpected ways. Plus a new “detective” who is as likely to question himself as a suspect.
The Unquiet Bones promises to be the first in a series of mysteries featuring Hugh de Singleton as a crime-solving surgeon. The writing is very straightforward; descriptions are succinct rather than flowery. You’ll also find plentiful use of terms and expressions typical of the times (no worries — Starr puts his glossary right up front, just read it first). As a result, the book has a directness that feels very appropriate for its time and place: Survival on earth and relief in heaven are everyone’s prime concerns.
Thoughtful and curious, surgeon Hugh is an engaging character who feels totally real. His thoughts at any given moment can fly to the same oddments as ours: Are only lords born with the ability to cock one eyebrow? Since the rich pay monks to pray for their souls, does that mean the poor have less chance of attaining heaven?
Hugh’s tendency to pose questions such as these not only enhance his efforts at investigation, they make the reader wonder as well. That is what set this book apart for me. I like Hugh and I want to know more about him.
And the mystery was enjoyable, too, though to say why would ruin your fun.
A Little Plot:
Through a literal accident, Hugh is invited to open his surgery at Lord Gilbert’s village of Bampton. When bones are discovered in the castle cesspool, Hugh is called upon to determine whose they are and who put them there. That’s a monumental task for those times, but Hugh takes it on. As his investigation progresses, more corpses turn up. And one young man looks very guilty indeed.
That’s all I’m going to reveal. It’s already too much.
For more about Melvin Starr and his new series of books, click here.