Hugh of Singleton, fourth son of a minor knight, has been educated as a clerk, usually a prelude to taking holy orders. However, he feels no real calling—despite his lively faith—and he turns to the profession of surgeon, training in Paris, and then hanging his sign in Oxford.
Soon after, a local lord asks Hugh de Singleton to track the killer of a young woman whose bones have been found in the castle cesspool. Through his medical knowledge, Singleton identifies her as the impetuous missing daughter of a local blacksmith.
The young man she loved—whom she had provoked very publicly—is quickly arrested and sentenced at Oxford. But this is just the beginning of the tale.
The story of Singleton’s adventure unfolds with realistic medical procedures, droll medieval wit, romantic distractions, and a consistent underlying sense of Christian compassion.
Unlike most cozy mysteries that are set in Bake Shops, Quilting Clubs or just centred around folks that enjoy unravelling a good mystery, this one is set in medieval England. The main protagonist is a four son, and as befitting the times is having to make his own way in the world, with death of his three older brothers being the only way he will inherit. The way he finds is the path of the surgeon, although given the condition of 14th century medicine I feel that the title ‘surgeon’ should be loosely interpreted. With a skillful hand the Author paints perfectly the lot of a younger son, and the reader is transported into the time period to suffer the cold and hunger that the main character experiences. Despite all his hardships, this character is very likeable, and is very well aware of the holes in his knowledge and goes to great lengths to make sure that those around him understand his skills only go so far. As the novel progresses so we see our main character grow and begin to find out who he really is; this is done with humility on the part of our ‘hero’ which only serves to endear him to the reader even more.
This is not a fast paced murder mystery but rather it ambles along at pace that reflects the era it was set in. It is a simpler time, but this simpler time is laced with a darkness and cruelty that was redolent in the 14th century. Although the story itself is simple, that is a good thing, the Authors descriptions are not weighed down with too much description, but not too little that the reader loses interest in what is happening. The book does have a lot of references to Christianity and the Church, but this is not because it is a Christian fiction novelist, again this is just a reflection of a time when the Church played a very large role in the everyday lives of the people it touched. Again this added to the overall feel of the novel, and did not detract from it in any way. Through tight writing and keeping on track with the plot, this novel is more than just another medieval tale.
I would highly recommend reading this series, and those readers who enjoy a cozy mystery but are looking for something away from the normal setting might especially enjoy this along with lovers of historical fiction. I will definitely be reading the remainder of the series as, and when they are published.