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Friday, June 4, 2010

To Kill or Cure. The Thirteenth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew. Susanna Gregory. Sphere (2007)

Very engaging and enjoyable period murder mystery with a great cast and a superbly constructed plot. In 1357 Matthew Bartholomew, a Fellow of Michaelhouse College in Cambridge and a physician, is facing serious problems. Richard Arderne, a "healer" has arrived in the town and is providing miraculous cures and turning the townspeople against Matthew and the other college physicians. At the same time a very serious dispute about rents is developing between the University and the town's landlords, the landlords want substantial increases and the University are opposing it. The usually uneasy relations between town and gown are becoming dangerously strained when one of the University Fellow is murdered and Richard Arderne raises someone from the dead. The tension is expertly developed, the reveals are cunningly staged and the conclusion surprising and very satisfying.
Susanna Gregory creates a vivid cast in an interesting context and very nicely twists together the threads of the plot. Matthew Batholomew and the rest of the Fellows of Michaelhouse are lively and well developed. Their interactions are sharp and colourful, they way that they manage their students and spar with each other is very engaging. The relationship between the town and the University is very well developed, the mutual interdependence rankles as much as it is required and the escalation of the dispute is credible and menacing. The limits of medicine in the times are nicely outlined, as well as the residue of fear and resentment left by the Black Death.
The story is not overburdened with historical detail, there is enough to make the context clear, the actions of the cast reveal the times much more effectively than exposition would do. They factions and politicking of the University staff and the maneuverings of the town's merchants are confidently developed and frequently sharply witty. The balance between cast and plot is beautifully achieved, well worth reading.

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