About this book: (from the publisher) Master Hugh, Kate, and their children attend the Midsummer’s Eve fire. The next morning Hugh hears the passing bell ring from the Church of St. Beornwald, and moments later is summoned. Tenants collecting the ashes to spread upon their fields have found burned bones.
Master Hugh learns of several men of Bampton and nearby villages who have gone missing recently. Most are soon found, some alive, some dead. Master Hugh eventually learns that the bones are those of a bailiff from a nearby manor. Someone has slain him and placed his body in the fire to destroy evidence of murder.
Bailiffs are not popular men; they dictate labor service, collect rents, and enforce other obligations. Has this bailiff died at the hand of some angry tenant? Hugh soon discovers this is not the case. There is quite another reason for murder . . .
About the author: (from his website) Mel Starr was born and grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He graduated from Spring Arbor High School in 1960, and Greenville College (Illinois) in 1964. He received an MA in history from Western Michigan University in 1970. He taught history in Michigan public schools for thirty-nine years, thirty-five of those in Portage, MI, where he retired in 2003 as chairman of the social studies department of Portage Northern High School.
Mel married Susan Brock in 1965, and they have two daughters; Amy (Kevin) Kwilinski, of Naperville, IL, and Jennifer (Jeremy) Reivitt, of Portage, MI. Mel and Susan have seven grandchildren.
If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG
Reminds me of: Ellis Peters’ Father Cadfael series
[Tweet “New series for fans of Ellis Peters’ Father Cadfael mysteries and medieval intrigue @KatherineSJones”]
Reflection: This is one of those times I recommend not judging a book by its cover–at least, not the way I judged it. When I first saw this one, I nearly skipped right by it. Lucky for me, for some reason I decided to take a second look, and what I read about the premise was enough to persuade me to give it a try. So glad I did! (Btw, other covers in this series, such as this one, aren’t nearly so gruesome.)
I don’t read a lot of mysteries these days, mainly, I think, because I haven’t found many that have satisfied. Happily, this book has changed that, and I anticipate this being the first of many enjoyable readings in the series.
What did I like about it? Just about everything (except maybe the cover!), from its setting–medieval England–to its honorable protagonist; from the author’s smooth pacing and spot-on voice to his fine-tuned attention to historical detail. It’s also a slim novel at only 200 or so pages, which makes for an easy read to lighten a busy week (which happens to be how I read it–mid-December, as I recall). The characters are likable–or not, depending on needs-be, but in either case, there wasn’t a lot of time devoted to exploring character: just enough to understand and move the story forward. Which enabled the focus to remain on solving the mystery. Just the right balance for this genre.
I savored the author’s confidence in his material, which invited me to get lost in another time and place. I also appreciated the gentle spiritual notes woven into the story–lightly so, nothing heavy-handed. I was also fascinated with this representation of Christendom that occurred at the approximate mid-point between Jesus’s time and mine. I experienced a kind of humble awe at the reminder of the continuity of Christianity these past two millenia-plus.
As with all good mysteries, this one pleased my desire to see justice meted out. All in all, I found it a delightful read, and I look forward to more from this author’s pen.
Thanks to Kregel/Lion Fiction for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
After words: Have you read (or watched) any of the Father Cadfael mysteries?