The second chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon
300 pages. 1 map. Glossary.
Hugh de Singleton, the young surgeon who became bailiff of Bampton Castle in The Unquiet Bones, returns in this second novel of the series.
This time, the beadle - in medieval times, the curfew enforcer and sort of a night watchman - has been found slain not far from a minor, somewhat dilapidated chapel. The marks on the body suggest an attack by a wild beast... but here, in Bampton? And there are other clues which puzzle Hugh...
In the first adventure, Hugh solved a murder mystery under the eye of Lord Gilbert. Now Lord Gilbert is away on other duties, and Hugh as bailiff is the master of the castle, and must direct the ongoing work of farming and building while solving the riddle of the beadle's death. This gives us greater understanding of how medieval communities worked, as well as showing the many relationships between work and the religious calendar.
The novel also continues the personal life of Hugh, who ended the last book with several possible love interests, all conflicting with matters of class and status. Now, with the aid of an old friend, he will at last find a suitable young lady to woo.
I was a great fan of the earlier novel, but this one was a let-down for me. Hugh continues to be an interesting character, and the story is amusingly told. However, the mystery is just too obvious, and the story is repetitious. (Yes, I know the author is trying to convey a sense of medieval times by having Hugh walk so often, but some of the wanderings seem purposeless... and how many times does he have to get hit in the head?) It seemed like the author missed opportunities (or left gaps) in his storytelling, where he could have explored the characters or the setting further. I also found it annoying that the final chapter, rather than wrapping up this story, seems designed to "sell" the next volume in the series.
I didn't enjoy this novel anywhere near as much as the first one, and I'm glad I didn't pay for my copy (the local library had a copy).
As with the last novel, this one is free from bad language or sexual situations, but as the plot tangentially involves immoral behavior and spousal abuse, this book may not be suitable for younger readers.
For wargamers, this novel may be of interest for explaining (in passing) some of the ways in which the medieval economy worked.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .