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Review: The Unquiet Bones, by Melvin Starr

Pages: 256
Original publication date: 2008
My edition: 2008 (Monarch Books)
Why I decided to read: Amazon recommendation
How I acquired my copy: Bookdepository, December 2009

The Unquiet Bones is the first in a medieval mystery series featuring the adventures of Hugh of Single, surgeon. He’s recently completed his training as a surgeon, and moved to the town of Bampton to practice his trade. When the remains of a young woman turn up in a cesspit, Hugh is called in for his medical expertise; and later, to solve the mystery. He does a fairly substatioal amount of legwork on his journey, trading services rendered for information along the way.

It’s an interesting plot, and there’s a fairly good and unexpected twist about two-thirds of the way through. Starr is technically not the most skilled of writers, but he gives his readers a very detailed picture of a town and its people during the 1360s. Hugh is a bit bland as a main character, and I’d like to see him develop a bit more as the series progresses. The potential romance wasn’t as quite as fleshed out as I thought it should be. I wasn’t quite sure about Hugh as a narrator; it wasn’t quite clear who he’s writing these chronicles for, or why. The accents various characters use are a bit confusing, too; I'm not an expert on English accents, but it sounds as though the author used different regional accents as though he thought that that would make the characters seem more authentic. And I wasn't entirely certain that I liked the John Wyclif bits; he seemed to be thrown into the book unnecessarily, without adding much to the plot. The book took a while to get off the ground—the author starts with this great opening, then spends three chapters talking about various procedures he’s done and how he came to know Sir Gilbert. I suppose much of that information is necessary to know more about the main character, but it took me out of the flow of the story for a moment.

However, I did enjoy the plot twist that I mentioned above, and the descriptions of medieval medicine are excellent. The author has clearly done his research and is passionate about his subject. The book is plotted and paced well, and Hugh’s inquiries into the death of the young woman in the cesspit are realistic. I look forward to reading more of his adventures. The book uses a number of medieval terms, which are easily explained by the glossary in the front of the novel (also, you have to love the cover, which depicts a medieval orthotic device for the foot. Imagine wearing that thing!).


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