It is the autumn of 1367. Master Hugh is enjoying the peaceful life of Bampton when a badly beaten man is found under the porch of St. Andrew's Chapel. The dying man is a chapman--a traveling merchant. Before he is buried in the chapel grounds, an ancient, corroded coin is found in the man's mouth.
Master Hugh's quest for the chapman's assailants, and his search for the origin of the coin, begins to make progress--but there are men of wealth and power in league with his old nemesis, Sir Simon Trillowe, who wish to end his search . . . permanently.
But Master Hugh, and his assistant, the groom Arthur, are determined to uncover the thieves and murderers, and the source of the chapman's coin. They do, but not before they become involved with a kidnapped maiden, a tyrannical abbot, and a suffering monk--who needs Master Hugh's surgical skills and in return provides clues that assist Hugh in solving the mystery of the tainted coin.
My thoughts: The historical setting of The Tainted Coin is medieval England in the year 1367. This is a new period read for me and I found it very interesting. So often historical reads are romances and filled with the give and take of the male and female protagonists. However, in The Tainted Coin I discovered Master Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon and found him a character of many fine points that the author develops quite well.
The story is written first-person with the voice of Singleton. He is the bailiff for the Lord's estate as well as a surgeon. Author Mel Starr is a historian by education and trade and has thoroughly research this period novel. Included in the front of the book are words and terms to help understand the terminology of the period. But you don't feel as though you are reading a history book. Frankly, you are riding from town to town, from village to village with Singleton and his trusty companion, Arthur, as they ride their horses who have definitely seen better days. It seems that they are constantly looking for lodging and food. Their food is most often maslin (bread made from mixed grains) and ale. They find villains and down-trodden folks. Sick and injured. You sense the justice as it is doled out during that period and which is based on laws hard to comprehend. You grasp the social order and the privilege of rank that exists.
Singleton is trying to solve a murder that occured on his Lord's estate and in the process encounters various individuals with problems, and he being a compassionate person seeks to aid them with whatever skills or possessions he has at his disposal.
I wish I had had the opportunity to read Mel Starr's other four books in this series, and perhaps I shall someday. You do not, however, need to read them to enjoy The Tained Coin as it is a good stand alone book. I found Starr's style different and refreshing. It was interesting to read this period book and I felt that I could trust Starr's interpretation of the customs of the time.
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