15 Jan 2024

The Polluted Font by Mel Starr Review

Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton #16 
Lion Fiction, October 23rd 2023, 192 Pages
Print and Ebook 

Setting: Late 1300s/14th century England
Genre: Crime and Mystery/Historical

When Hugh and Kate's new-born son is taken to the church to be baptized, they are astounded to find that the locked font is completely dry. The possibility of a leak is quickly ruled out, and just as Hugh is beginning to wonder if there may be a sinister explanation for the stolen holy water, Fr Robert is found lying motionless by the rood screen in a pool of blood . . .

Meanwhile, parliament has passed a poll tax, stipulating everyone above the age of 14 is to be taxed equally. Folk are soon scrambling to find the money to pay and, inevitably, unscrupulous elements in society see an opportunity to feed off people’s desperation and make some cash . . . But what connection can there possibly between this and events at Bampton?

Mel Starr's latest novel is a thoroughly enjoyable medieval crime mystery. It may be enjoyed as complete in itself, or as part of the Hugh de Singleton series.


Rating: 🌠🌠🌠🌠

I’ve been reading the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton almost since the beginning, and I’m more than willing to admit some of the books were better than others. This one, I think was one of the better ones. Mel Starr has managed to so something quite remarkable in this book- allow for there to be a complex mystery, investigation and a satisfactory conclusion with no murder having taken place. A man is attacked and left with a head injury but is not killed.

Another interesting aside: this series has spanned a length of time almost as long as I have been reading the series. The first book was set in 1364 and this one take place in 1377. I first discovered this series in 2011. Twelve years to Hugh’s thirteen. 
Considering how some of the laws and political changes at the time the story is set might have impacted on ordinary people was the backdrop of the story.

My only sort of gripe was the negative portrayal of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Hugh never met the man, so why does he consider him corrupt, greedy and untrustworthy? 
Seems more like the interpretation of modern historians if you ask me. I’ve read a biography of John of Gaunt and I don't think this image reflects reality, or at least its too simplistic.

Anyway, The Polluted Font was an interesting and detailed mystery which also managed to explore the importance of compassion and forgiveness, and even to make you feel sorry for the antagonist. It also explores the importance of religion to 14th century people, without some of the pitfalls of the genre which include treating all Medieval Catholics as bad and the anacronistic proto-Protestant character as the only real believer.

Thanks to SPCK and Lion Fiction for approving me for this title via Netgalley. This did not influence my review and all opinions expressed are my own. 

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