The Unquiet Bones is the first book in the series of Hugh de Singleton adventure in the late 1300s Bampton, England. I don’t remember how I found Melvin Starr books, but I did. Probably Goodreads’ algorithm suggested his book to my shelves when I was browsing around. The title and the cover intrigued me to find this book, and I was a little bit excited to realise that this is yet another historical crime fiction series right up my alley.
Unquiet Bones in Bampton
When I was introduced to High de Singleton’s character, I feel that he is a sincere, warm, and true to his oath kind of guy. I thought the author started the story solidly by illustrating Hugh’s contemplation upon choosing the profession of a surgeon. Somehow, there was a silver lining to the second chapter of the Black Death in Oxford. Otherwise, William Gastrang wouldn’t bestow the books to Hugh, which made him decide to pursue a career as a surgeon.
There were new names that I have to etch into my brain because this is a series, and the characters surely will develop from book to book. The ones that I consider the main casts are: Hugh de Singleton (duh?), Lord Gilbert, Lady Petronilla, Lady Joan, Alice, and several residents of Bampton in and around the castle.
The Case of Unquiet Bones
The story starts with something that I am very familiar with. Skeletal remains were found in a cesspit of the Bampton Castle, estimated to be of a young female, no more than seventeen years old. The clues available were only of a stab wound on her thorax area and a healed broken foot. The problem is that nobody in Bampton or the surrounding hamlets seem to miss one of their community members, especially not a young girl. Questions of the problem: (1) Who was this girl? (2) Who is her family? Are they looking for her? (3) Why was she killed? (4) Why was she disposed of in a cesspit?
I approached the story in The Unquiet Bones as I did my work in the past. I am especially delighted that the details were described excessively in the paragraphs. I had my suspicion of probable ‘why’, but I had no clue who the ‘who’ is. Then I saw all of my suspects became invalid when they found two other bodies in the nearby clearing of Bampton. There go my suspects…
I struggled to find other possible suspects for these murders. Was it one person, or were there multiple perpetrators? At some point, I was running out of possible suspects, and I curiously turn the pages to find if there’s another that I can accuse. Hahaha.
My favourite part of The Unquiet Bones was actually the first chapters. I very much appreciate that Melvin Starr spent quite some time elaborating on Hugh de Singleton’s origin story. Even though Chapter 1 did start with finding the girl’s remains, the narration shifted over so lightly to the making of one Hugh de Singleton, the Surgeon.
This method is unlike other medieval crime and mystery authors I read before. I think this type of exposition chapter is refreshing. I get the sense that High has no secret and started humbly by his own credence. (Is ‘credence’ the proper word here?) I understand the variation used by other authors might want to nudge or hint at a sense of mystery. Perhaps even suspense or future story arc possibilities. With this type of introduction and my first impression of Hugh, I realise I am still to be corrected since this is only the first book of the series. He might turn out to be an arsehole later in the series, and that, I don’t know.
The Unquiet Bones is a decent light reading in the genre of historical crime fiction. I like it; I will keep reading the following books in the series. But I’m sad to think this book is a little bit plain to my taste. There was no gore, and I think the story didn’t cause me any anxiety.
I have mixed feelings about The Unquiet Bones. On the one hand, it reminded me so much of my past career. Before you think I also solved murders—no, I didn’t. My tasks were dealing more with reading how the dead had lived thousands of years in the past.
On the other hand, I had difficulties following the seemingly random strings of events because I was slightly distracted as I was finishing this book. After all, I did it when I was queueing for my vaccination number to be called up. There was much noise around that failed me to concentrate on the elaborate style of English used in this book, especially on the Bampton people’s dialogues.
I lost my train of thought as the book drew closer to its conclusion, partly hoping that the case is solved at the end. But I think I still got the gist of the content because the theme isn’t alien nor strange to me.
The language style, though. It feels to me as if it’s a bit more Victorian than medieval. I’m not critiquing; I’m stating an observation. But then again, I am not an English language style expert. Some bits sounded like medieval English (or what I perceive as medieval English), but I sense a tinge of Victorian-style English in some other parts. Again, I wouldn’t dare to critique the English language. I can’t write a nice story like this one.
The murders were solved, fortunately, and they apprehended the culprit. No, it wasn’t who I thought it was. I made a wrong assumption. The ending isn’t a cliff-hanger and was more on the conclusive side.
I do have some expectations on the thing between Hugh and Lady Joan. I hope I will get the answer soon! She flirts properly like a lady she is, which I might probably copy and apply.
The Unquiet Bones is a decent light reading in the genre of historical crime fiction. I like it; I will keep reading the following books in the series. But I’m sad to think this book is a little bit plain to my taste. There was no gore, and I think the story didn’t cause me any anxiety. You know, perhaps that is a good shift cause at least one thing didn’t get me anxious. I will spare no time to jump into the next book!
Words I Learnt in THE UNQUIET BONES
- marshalsea: or marshalcy referred to the office of a marshal, derived from the Anglo-French mareschalcie. Marshal originally meant farrier, from the Old Germanic marh (horse) and scalc (servant), later a title bestowed on those presiding over the courts of Medieval Europe. (thanks, Wikipedia!)
- deodand: a thing forfeited or given to God, specifically, in law, an object or instrument that becomes forfeited because it has caused a person’s death. (always Wikipedia)
- Rogation Sunday: The Sixth Sunday of Easter (the fifth Sunday after Easter Sunday) in the Church of England’s calendar of festivals. (source: The Clewer Initiative)
- ignoble: not honourable in character or purpose; of humble origin or social status. (source: OxfordLanguages)
- bailiwick: is usually the area of jurisdiction of a bailiff, and once also applied to territories in which a privately appointed bailiff exercised the sheriff’s functions under a royal or imperial writ. (I owe Wikipedia a lot)
- gules: red, as a heraldic tincture. (source: OxfordLanguages)
- castigates: reprimand (someone) severely. (source: OxfordLanguages)
- convivial: friendly, lively, and enjoyable; cheerful and friendly; jovial. (source: OxfordLanguages)
- mirth: gladness or gaiety as shown by or accompanied with laughter (source: Merriam-Webster)
- capon: a cockerel that has been castrated or neutered, either physically or chemically, to improve the quality of its flesh for food, and, in some countries like Spain, fattened by forced feeding. (final help from Wikipedia, this time)