The Third Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon
240 pages. Map. Glossary.
As you may recall, I thoroughly enjoyed the first volume in this series, but was less enamored of the second volume. However, since my local library system happened to have volume three (and since the library is practically next door to my house!), it was too convenient not to give the third book in the series a read...
The setting is 14th Century England, and "Master Hugh" is a surgeon and the bailiff of Bampton Castle (in the service of Lord Gilbert). Hugh's medical skills have proven useful in solving several murders, with the investigations often taking him not just to the villages surrounding Bampton, but also to Oxford, the university town where he once studied.
At the conclusion of the last story, Hugh is visiting Oxford once more - not just to visit his former teacher and mentor, John Wycliff, now the warden of Canterbury Hall, but also to pursue his courtship of Kate, the stationer's daughter. This is when he learns that Wycliff's entire library of 22 irreplaceable books has been stolen.
Hugh despairs of helping his friend solve the mystery, as his duties must take him back to Bampton. But as it turns out, Lord Gilbert is eager to do a favor for Duke John, who is known as a patron of Master Wycliff. And the harvest is over, so the bailiff's duties are done for the year. Plus Lord Gilbert (and his wife) would be happy to see Hugh find a wife...
And so Hugh finds himself in Oxford tasked with solving the mystery of the missing books, in the company of Arthur, one of Lord Gilbert's men. Canterbury Hall was intended as a center of study for both clerics (churchmen) and scholars, but since Master Wycliff is a scholar himself, the clerics of Canterbury are displeased. So is this a mere theft, or is it somehow tied to Canterbury intrigues?
Meanwhile, Hugh's pursuit of Kate hits a snag when he finds out he has competition - from the sheriff's son, Sir Simon Trillowe, a knight.
As with the other volumes in this series, this book is as much the next chapter of Hugh's life as it is a mystery; and the mystery itself is not so much who the key suspects are (as they are uncovered early on), but how will Hugh finally obtain enough clues to put the whole puzzle together, and what sort of justice will prevail in medieval times?
This book is a fun read, as it weaves between the story of the mystery and the courtship, with plodding detective work mixing with chases and abductions. The new character of Arthur provides Hugh with a sidekick, Kate develops into more of a character than in the previous novel, and Lord Gilbert drops in from time to time to dramatically influence events.
For wargamers, this book shows how fragile justice for commoners could be in medieval times. There are a few fight scenes, but nothing particularly suitable for wargaming. (Hugh is a scholar, not a fighter.)
Bottom line - this novel is as good as the first one!
P.S. Turns out my local library system has just acquired volume four in this series, but it will be a while before I can get my hands on a copy...
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .