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Sunday 5 January 2020

‘Without a Trace’ by Mel Starr

Published by Lion Hudson,
September 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-78264-267-1 (PB)

Hugh de Singleton is a surgeon who holds the important position of bailiff to an influential nobleman, Lord Gilbert Talbot, at his manor in Brampton. As well as managing Lord Gilbert’s estates, Hugh has to deal with matters that infringe the rule of law on his master’s lands. Hugh’s skill as an investigator has caused him to be knighted by Prince Edward and he and his family are more secure and prosperous than they have ever been before. However, Hugh is well aware that life in 1373 is a dangerous business. A poor harvest could mean that his poorer neighbours will starve, while the return of the plague will kill many people, both rich and poor, as it had Lord Gilbert’s wife, Petronilla, four years previously.

Lord Gilbert is expecting guests at his castle. Sir Aymer Molyns is married to Philippa, who was a cousin of Lord Gilbert’s late wife. It is an ordinary enough visit and the couple are not travelling from any great distance. Hugh does not expect to be greatly involved in the matter, but when the party arrives, the carriage that is supposed to contain Lady Philippa and her maid is found to be empty. It seems extraordinary that nobody witnessed the abduction of the two women, but the outriders had ridden on ahead and the elderly driver is very deaf. Lord Gilbert is uncertain whether Lady Philippa disappeared while on his land, but he commands Hugh to investigate the matter and attempt to ensure the lady’s safety and restore her to her husband.

From the beginning, Hugh is uncertain whether the lady has been forcibly abducted or whether she has engineered her own disappearance, possibly to elope with a lover. When a ransom is demanded, it seems as if Lady Philippa has indeed been kidnapped for gain, but when the ransom is delivered the lady is still not returned. For Hugh the options of abduction or voluntary disappearance remain open, along with an even more sinister possibility. Sir Aymer is angry with his wife because, like his first wife, she has not yet conceived and given him an heir, and he has treated her with cruelty and violence. It seems possible that he is responsible for his wife’s abduction and will have her declared dead, so that he can marry a third wife.

Hugh’s search for Lady Philippa takes him across the country and to Oxford. He is determined to do his utmost to discover the who is behind the lady’s disappearance, even when his lord gives him leave to quit the search, he is determined to discover the truth.

Without a Trace is the twelfth book in the series featuring Hugh de Singleton but it works perfectly as a stand-alone novel. I have not read any of the previous books but was immersed into Hugh’s world without any problem. The author shows great skill in weaving in relevant backstory and historical details without slowing down the plot and creates the 14th century world with a deft use of description and medieval terms. Hugh is an engaging character, with moral strength and compassion and an endearing love for his wife and children. This is an excellent read that I would recommend to any readers who enjoy historical detective stories.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Mel Starr was born and grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He graduated from Spring Arbor High School in 1960, and Greenville College (Illinois) in 1964. He received an MA in history from Western Michigan University in 1970. He taught history in Michigan public schools for thirty-nine years, thirty-five of those in Portage, MI, where he retired in 2003 as chairman of the social studies department of Portage Northern High School. Since, retiring he has focused on his highly successful novels. Mel married Susan Brock in 1965, and they have two daughters.
Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below. 
 To read a review of Carol latest book Strangers and Angels click on the title.

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