In Mel Starr’s book A Corpse at St. Andrew's Chapel, a bailiff named Hugh de Singleton investigates the death of a local official named Alan. The story takes place in medieval England (14th century). Hugh finds himself faced with mysterious circumstances related to Alan’s death, because the coroner says that a wolf caused the death of Alan but Hugh thinks otherwise. Hugh feels sorry for Alan’s widow, and this gives him the motivation to solve the riddle of Alan’s death. Later, the story gets more complicated when Hugh learns that a commoner named Henry atte Bridge also has been murdered in similar fashion.
The unusual structure of the book makes for good reading. Starr surrounds the main plotline with many cultural side stories, making the book as much a picture of medieval times as it is a mystery. Starr has studied medieval surgery, as well as English law, geography, and history, so the detail given to the story is accurate and truly amazing. The main characters are well developed, and the minor characters bring interesting and sometimes funny aspects to the narrative. The relationship between the characters of the book is complicated but interwoven perfectly. The main character has a self-deprecating sense of humor, such as when, during a dancing festival, he explains why he avoids dancing. Hugh tells the reader that when he dances, it looks like a disjointed scarecrow coming to life, and he doesn’t want to scare anyone.
The main characters are Hugh de Singelton, Alan, Henry atte Bridge, Thomas atte Bridge, and John Kellet. Hugh faces the dilemma of putting forth the effort to solve the death of Alan and the murder of Henry, the latter man being a very unpopular commoner. Eventually, Hugh solves the mystery by interesting and sometimes unorthodox methods. He will stop at nothing to reveal what happened to the two unfortunate victims, Alan and Henry.
Starr develops his characters outstandingly well. Even the minor characters have diverse personalities and interesting occupations. Hugh has an inquisitive and occasionally brash personality that sometimes gets him into trouble. He is also very observant about most everything, taking in minor details that most others overlook. The two villains of the book have shadowy personalities, which cause them to act strangely. They have certain talents that do not fit their occupations. The few women in the book serve their roles as housekeepers, but one is surprisingly romantic.
A Corpse at St. Andrew's Chapel left me feeling satisfied that I took the time to read it. If the book has one weakness, it is not well explained how Hugh became both a surgeon and a bailiff. Another observation is that the descriptions of Hugh’s surgical procedures are a little long winded and pretty graphic. The detail of the surgeries might not make all readers sick—I personally don’t mind blood—but it’s worth warning parents about. Other than these two concerns, the book is a good story and hard to put down. The dialogue and flow of the story are great, and the characters are dynamic and complex. I would recommend this book to adults ages eighteen and older. – Isaac Hamlin, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
Alan, the beadle of the manor of Bampton, had gone out at dusk to seek those who might violate curfew. When, the following morning, he had not returned home, his young wife Matilda seeks out Master Hugh de Singleton, surgeon and bailiff of the manor.