Search This Blog

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Unquiet Bones. Melvin R. Starr. Monarch Books (2008)

A very enjoyable and engaging historical murder mystery. In 1363, Hugh De Singleton the fourth son of a minor knight returns to Oxford from Paris where he trained as a surgeon. When Lord Gilbert is injured outside his lodgings, Hugh treats him and this leads to an offer to become a surgeon at Brampton, one of Lord Gilbert's manors. With a successful operation having established his reputation in the village Hugh becomes involved a mystery when human bones are found in the castle cesspit. Hugh is given the task of discovering the identity of the skeleton and why they ended the cesspit, in particular why they are not the bones of two men who had disappeared some moths earlier. Hugh conducts his investigation with care and attention to detail, the story twists and turns very nicely, the reveals are carefully staged and the unravelling is highly satisfactory.
Melvin R. Starr has solved the two biggest problems involving any historical murder mystery with skill and care, the historical background is presented very naturally without disrupting the narrative with information dumps. The context is allowed to arise  very clearly from the actions of the cast and the context for the story, where needed details are provided without every intruding. The mystery is stitched directly into the historical context, it is not simply resting on it, it could not easily be simply transferred to another context.
The cast are very engaging, lead by Hugh de Singleton himself, part of the minor gentry, educated and needing to earn his own living he is perfectly positioned to move easily across the social barriers and still be an outsider enough to investigate everyone. The first person narrative captures the character of a man who is strongly aware of his situation, is self aware enough to know that he can be mistaken and is tough enough to push forward when needed. He is in love with the wrong woman, knows it and does his best not to fool himself but is still vulnerable.
The rest of the cast are all given the space and time to make their presence felt, Lord Gilbert is a forceful man who wants his holding to be peaceful and prosperous, the villagers are given a chance to show themselves, their voices and choices all ring true.
The plot mechanics are first rate, the initial set up with the surprise that the bones are not those everyone expected them to be is just the first of some very well set up surprises that the story reveals. The investigation is logical and fair, it still travels in interesting directions that never feel forced or simply required to bring the plot in a desired direction. While a simple opportunity is a significant hinge for the story, Hugh de Singleton ruefully acknowledges that an even simpler question would have been quicker. This acknowledgement is a tribute to Melvin R. Starr's craft that it does not undermine the story, it makes Hugh much more credible, hindsight is is stick that beats us all.
Great fun and great company, a hugely enjoyable read.

No comments:

Post a Comment