Thursday, April 04, 2013

Review of 'A Trail of Ink' by Mel Starr



A Trail of Ink: The Third Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon 
★★★★☆
  
 "Some valuable books have been stolen from Master John Wyclif, the well known scholar and Bible translator. He calls upon his friend and former pupil, Hugh de Singleton, to investigate. Hugh's investigation leads him to Oxford where he again encounters Kate, the only woman who has tempted him to leave bachelor life behind, but Kate has another serious suitor. As Hugh's pursuit of Kate becomes more successful, mysterious accidents begin to occur. Are these accidents tied to the missing books, or to his pursuit of Kate?

One of the stolen books turns up alongside the drowned body of a poor Oxford scholar. Another accident? Hugh certainly doesn t think so, but it will take all of his surgeon's skills to prove
."

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A Trail of Ink has a little bit of everything that makes this series enjoyable, mystery, a colourful and detailed historical backdrop, and some interesting descriptions of Medieval surgery, medicine and other aspects of life. In this novel, there is even a hint of Romance, with Hugh courting Kate Paxton, the stationers’ daughter he met in the last novel. Unwittingly, he also gains himself and enemy, an initially a love rival in the form of Sir Simon Trillowe son of the Sheriff of Oxford who causes problems in the later books.
This third installment focuses on the relationship between Kate and Hugh, and of course he has a mystery to solve as Doctor John Wycliffe has had all his books stolen. An event which causes Hugh’s friend and mentor some distress- he was a scholar who relied on his books after all. Hugh's employer Lord Gilbert Talbot's encouragement to find a wife gives Hugh the perfect excuse to stay in Oxford, and help Master Wycliffe.

Of course, Hugh soon falls into trouble as Sir Simon Trillowe is literally willing to go to any lengths to get him out of the way- and it is all the harder to deal with him as his father holds the authority of Sheriff. 
Yet the frequency and nature of nefarious plots do harm to or do away with our hero seem to be getting a little implausible. How many times can someone break into his room or his house at night, ambush him in the street, kidnap him, or attack him, and he just narrowly escape? It does seem to be getting to be a little bit of a worn out formula now and perhaps a tad predictable. 

I also had a few issues with Hugh himself in the story. For instance, when he is thrown into jail on false charges and facing execution (begging the question of whether a member of the gentry classes actually could be treated thus), he prays in desperation as he can think of no way out, but, when the situation is resolved, he is not depicted as grateful or thankful to God for apparently answering his prayers.
Instead he whines. Also, his lying does get a bit much after a while, especially when there would be other ways to deal with the situation, and his automatic assumption that he is not as bad as others, or that God won’t mind. The ending also seemed a little but rushed, resolved very quickly seemingly without much explanation of the motives of those involved. 

Altogether A Trail of Ink is an enjoyable mystery story and light read that does not rely on gory murders (in fact this event does not happen until over halfway through the book), in a fascinating and well-researched setting. The said, the elements of the story which can be repetitive, formulaic and predictable were a shortcoming, which could perhaps prove problematic if the series continues.

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