If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9
Master Hugh de Singleton is making his way toward Oxford when he discovers the corpse of a young Benedictine not half a mile from the nearby abbey.
The abbey’s novice master confirms the boy’s identity; it is John, one of three novices. He had gone missing four days previous, and yet his corpse is fresh. There has been plague in the area, but this was not the cause of death—the lad has been stabbed in the back. To Hugh’s sinking heart, the abbot has a commission for him.
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.
Mel Starr never ceases to impress. His 7th book in The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon, The Abbot’s Agreement, just might be his best novel yet. Starr is the master of creating a puzzling mystery set in Medieval England. I highly recommend this book for lovers of mystery fiction, whatever the setting.
Hugh de Singleton, bailiff for Lord Gilbert Talbot, is on his way to purchase a Bible in Oxford. Accompanying him is the loyal and physically dominating groom, Arthur, a handy person to have while traveling the roads of England in the 14th century. But before they travel very far, they discover the remains of a novice at the local abbey, and the old and frail Abbott persuades Hugh with the promise of a free Bible to stay and find the felon. Hugh, ever mindful of his growing family and his decreasing purse, agrees.
There is a lot to love about Starr’s mystery series. His characters are always believable and well-drawn. Hugh is especially complex. An intelligent man, bound by the culture and wisdom of his day, he endeavors to find truth in his cases and also in his understanding of God and man. Medieval England comes to life as seen through Hugh’s first person narrative. Hugh may be constrained by the limited scientific knowledge of he day, but he makes up for it with his wit and inventiveness. In The Abbot’s Agreement, Hugh cleverly discovers the how and where of the crime, yet the who and why remain a mystery. In this, human behavior becomes the main focus of the investigation.
Master Hugh is also a man of deep faith. He longs to read the Bible for himself, rather than having others tell him what it says. His study of the Scripture leads him to an understanding that bordered on what those of his day believed heretical. I loved Hugh’s explanation of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, an idea that many today struggle with as well. Other heretical ideas are also explored — ideas that still seem alive and well in today’s modern world.
While The Abbot’s Agreement can be read as a standalone, I recommend that you start at the beginning. Hugh is a wonderful character and this mystery series is one of the best I have read.
(Thanks to Kregel and Lion Hudson for a review copy. The opinions expressed are mine alone.)
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(Thanks to Kregel and Lion Hudson for a review copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)