Book Review: Deeds Of Darkness by Mel Starr

Updated February 11, 2018
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Book Review: Deeds Of Darkness by Mel Starr

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When Bampton’s coroner, Hubert Shillside, does not return from a trip to Oxford, Master Hugh de Singleton is called. Concerned for his old friend, Hugh takes to the road to investigate. Travel is safer than in times hence but, out of sight of prying eyes, it is still unwise to travel alone...

Hugh finds a body, stabbed and left to rot, but it is not the body he was expecting to find. Indeed, reports of pillage, attacks, and chaos on the roads out of Oxford suddenly seem rampant. Hugh must ascertain whether the incidents are random, or whether something darker is afoot. The guilty cannot afford to be caught, but what lengths will they go to to cover their tracks, and will Hugh escape unscathed?

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Editor review

1 reviews

Deeds of Darkness by Mel Starr
Overall rating 
Mel Starr is an authority on Medieval Surgery and Medieval English and that makes him perfect to write these stories. This is the tenth novel in the series of chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, but it is my first experience of this world.

Hugh is not only a surgeon, but is also the bailiff for the local area under the Lord of the Manor, Gilbert Talbot. At this time, following the plague sweeping through the country, Bailiffs generally are not well thought of, as they will often take what they can, and be harsher than they should with the peasants within their area. Hugh though, is kinder than most and more determined to discharge his duties fairly. It also falls to him to investigate any allegations of crimes, so when a man of the village disappears he is tasked to investigate. This starts a series of events which see's multiple trips from Bampton to Oxford to try and find the missing coroner. Eventually a body is found in the river, but it is clear that this man has not stumbled into the river by accident, a broken, bad quality, blade is removed from the corpse.

However, this is not the only body that turns up, or the only crime that has been committed, a series of break-ins (called hamsoken), rape, kidnap have also taken place. Are all these incidents related? As the investigation continues it looks like there are a group 4 young men who are guilty of the deeds, or could it be one of the known miscreants in the next parish?

If you have not read one of these novels before, the style may take you by surprise. Written from the perspective of Hugh, and in the style of a medieval surgeon, so phrases are very true to the time. There is also a glossary at the beginning of the book which will provide a translation of some of the terms used both in the dishes consumed, but also other things that are referred to throughout the story.

Obviously, there is no CSI style evidence to be followed, the detective work instead is very manual. Visiting, questioning, uncovering evidence where possible and eventually leading to the responsible parties getting found out. Once you have got into the story, you almost forget the strange sounding use of language, and the novel trips along nicely.

Hugh studied under John Wycliffe when he went to Oxford, so the well known scholar and Bible translator turns up in this story too when Hugh seeks some guidance, and some stolen property. It is this blend of fiction with facts that really define this story. Places mentioned, including the church, are places that still exist, or did exist at the time, ruins of which have been uncovered.

Mel really spins a great story, totally believable and well worth the time, with a strong end and satisfying conclusion. There is a blend of the personal life of Hugh, his wife and children, his father-in-law, and the professional. The confession that often it is discussing things with his wife that helps him see the clarity of the case that shows his humanity which I really enjoyed.

This book is another great title from Lion Hudson. In the time that this story is set the Catholic church is the accepted version of Christianity, although through this novel there is the discussion of purgatory and the need to pay to get from that place. Hugh knows that he must not share his doubt of this situation for fear that he would be branded as a heretic.

I loved the story, well written and clear, with a great progressive plot. I would love, if I had time, to go back and read the previous novels to catch up with the history of this intriguing character.

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