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Book Review: Unhallowed Ground: The Fourth Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon by Mel Starr

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I first met Hugh de Singleton in A Trail of Ink. Although it was the third book in the series, I had no problem with entering the 1300s and seeing how a bailiff/surgeon solved crimes and mended the sick. This time around, with Mel Starr’s Unhallowed Ground, the process was even smoother, as if meeting with an old friend whose company I enjoy immensely.

In Unhallowed Ground,  Hugh faces a unique challenge. He must look past a staged suicide and find the killer of a man that had no shortage of enemies. In fact, the murder victim was so despised that Hugh fears he might become a pariah if he captures the killer, who many view as a hero. Hugh himself has experienced an unfortunate encounter with the victim so he knows how his fellow townspeople feel, experiencing uncertainty at how righteous he might feel if he finds himself forced to arrest a friend for murdering an enemy. However, Hugh can’t stop his pursuit for justice because it seems that someone is trying to kill him and his new wife to keep Hugh from solving the crime.

Mel Starr has managed, once again, to perfectly capture the atmosphere of a time that I know nothing about. Starr’s skillful way with words allows me to be transported back to those bygone days, letting me see with my mind’s eye how people lived in 1366, and in Hugh’s case, how crimes are solved. I don’t know if the idea of forensics was actually in use when it came to solving crimes back then, but the important thing is that Starr makes it seem realistic. Hugh’s methods are seen as questionable by many, but those methods do get results.

While Hugh de Singleton is a strong character all on his own, he’s given more depth and substance with the support of a few minor characters. Kate, who was introduced in the last book, is now married to Hugh, and it was a pleasure to see that Starr still provides her with her own depth and realism. Instead of merely being seen as Hugh’s wife, Kate is a person all her own, who just happens to be married to Hugh. Another returning character is Arthur, the servant that frequently aids Hugh with menial tasks during an investigation. While he played a smaller role in this book than he did in A Trail of Ink, Arthur still manages to convey a sense of humor with his direct way of looking at things, in addition to offering a peek at how ‘the other side’ lives. While Arthur is a long way from being considered a man of means, his insights frequently prove to be invaluable.

If you enjoy a good mystery but feel like all the sleuths are starting to resemble each other, a trip back into the past to meet and solve crimes with Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon, might be just what the doctor ordered.Unhallowed Ground  by Mel Starr is just the right prescription.

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About Daryn Watson