Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Unquiet Bones: review

'The Unquiet Bones' is not a book I'd usually choose (not being a big fan of historical crime fiction), but one of the joys of being a disciple of Medical Humanities is that it takes me to plays and films I wouldn't otherwise see, and encourages me to read books I wouldn't otherwise have considered. Melvin Starr's first novel introduces Hugh de Singleton, fictional medieval surgeon in the real-life Oxfordshire village of Bampton.

The author, Melvin Starr, is an American scholar of medieval surgery and English, but I am relieved to say that this novel bears no hint of dry academic discourse. It is written in prosaic, no-nonsense style, with an emphasis on moving the plot along. Written in the first person, Hugh de Singleton turns out to be an affable chap, eager to please his patron, Lord Gilbert. When the bones of a young girl are found in Gilbert's castle cesspit, Hugh is commissioned to play detective to solve the mystery. Read the first chapter here.

While undoubtedly a page-turner, 'The Unquiet Bones' reads a little like a potential script for a TV drama: long on dialogue and short on description. Rather too many sentences start with 'I' in quick succession, and there is little to explain Hugh's remarkable medical acumen and experience given he is new to the job. In short, I would have liked more literariness! However, the story has a twist or two and I found myself rooting for the modest Hugh, especially in his aspiring to the beautiful Lady Joan who is way above his station. Billed as the 'first chronicle', there is obviously more to look forward to.

Other historical series with a medical slant are the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters (I can really recommend the audiobooks of these which are beautifully read by Stephen Thorne, complete with lyrical Welsh cadences), and the delightful Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. Peabody is redoubtable Victorian archaeologist with a modicum of medical skill and a considerable ego.

1 comment:

voilajanine said...

"The Unquiet Bones" was a pleasure to read and the story certainly had a few twists and turns that I wasn't expecting. The surgeon Hugh is likeable and very real. I look forward to following his career and his love interests (hopefully). It was good news to read that a second book in the series is published and I shall definitely be ordering it.