Ashes to Ashes: The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon, Book 8

Written by Mel Starr
Review by Rebecca Kightlinger

England, 1369. Surgeon Hugh de Singleton, bailiff of Bampton, is summoned to examine human remains—bones—discovered in the ashes of the St. John’s Day bonfire, and the search for the victim’s identity is on. Clues wrested from reluctant villagers lead de Singleton into a web of secrets woven over decades in the nearby village of Kencott, whose bailiff, rumored to have been highborn, has gone missing.

An engrossing tale of medieval forensics, Ashes to Ashes is narrated in lean prose by de Singleton, who draws readers in through his cool depiction of a kitchen-table autopsy, a gruesome bonesetting, and a brutal beating. He then goes on to establish, detail by fascinating detail, the identity of the victim. From there, he employs intuition, medical knowledge, and investigative skill to ferret out the murderer.

Author Mel Starr opens the story in past-tense narration and then breaks the rules by allowing de Singleton to pepper his narrative with present-tense comments: a brilliant move, as it turns out, because by doing so at precisely the right moments, Starr turns a crime novel into a living chronicle, and his narrator into a true storyteller. The reader, from the very start, is hooked.