A Trail of Ink
The affable hero of Mel Starr’s A Trail of Ink tells the reader that “he had come to Oxford on that October day, Monday, the twentieth, in the year of our Lord 1365, to see what progress [he] might make to remedy [his] solitary estate.” His intention was to seek the hand of Kate Caxton in marriage. Said hero, Hugh de Singleton, is bailiff to Lord Gilbert Talbot. Plus he is a surgeon who has made a reputation for himself as a crime solver as well.
After gaining permission to court Kate from her father, the stationer, Robert Caxton, Hugh visits his former teacher, John Wyclif, and learns that someone has stolen several of Wyclif’s valuable books. Wyclif entreats Hugh to solve the theft. Lord Gilbert gives leave for Hugh to take on the job and assigns his squire, the large and stalwart Arthur, to assist him. The quest for Kate’s hand should go on the back burner for awhile, but Kate makes herself an active partner in Hugh’s hunt for the thief; thus courting and crime-solving are accomplished together.
The story moves at a good pace with the murder of an impoverished scholar added to the inquiry. The loutish knight, Sir Simon Trillowe, proves a formidable obstacle to solving the crimes and to Hugh’s romantic efforts. In the end Hugh’s wit and Arthur’s strength – with some help from Kate – bring the miscreants to justice.
A Trail of Ink is a lighthearted story with stock characters and a simple plot and dialogue. It has good historical detail about 14th-century cuisine and social customs. The author avoids the political and religious complexities surrounding John Wyclif’s teaching, which makes the story perhaps too simple for some readers of historical fiction. Recommended more as a young adult novel – and an excellent one at that.