Book Review: The Tainted Coin

25 Jan


It is the autumn of 1367. Master Hugh is enjoying the peaceful life of Bampton when a badly beaten man is found under the porch of St. Andrew’s Chapel. The dying man is a chapman–a traveling merchant. Before he is buried in the chapel grounds, an ancient, corroded coin is found in the man’s mouth.
Master Hugh’s quest for the chapman’s assailants, and his search for the origin of the coin, begins to make progress–but there are men of wealth and power in league with his old nemesis, Sir Simon Trillowe, who wish to end his search . . . permanently.
But Master Hugh, and his assistant, the groom Arthur, are determined to uncover the thieves and murderers, and the source of the chapman’s coin. They do, but not before they become involved with a kidnapped maiden, a tyrannical abbot, and a suffering monk–who needs Master Hugh’s surgical skills and in return provides clues that assist Hugh in solving the mystery of the tainted coin.



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.

Mel married Susan Brock in 1965, and they have two daughters; Amy (Kevin) Kwilinski, of Naperville, IL, and Jennifer (Jeremy) Reivitt, of Portage, MI. Mel and Susan have seven grandchildren.

My Impressions:

After reading two other books in Mel Starr’s medieval mystery series, I was looking forward to more adventures with Hugh de Singleton, surgeon. The Tainted Coin did not disappoint. Faced with a dead chapman (a traveling peddler) on his master’s land, Hugh must find out just who did the dirty deed and why. Hugh responds to his task with persevering dedication long after most would have given up. But not Hugh, an intrepid bailiff with a conscience. What the reader gets is a wonderful look into medieval society and a whodunit with a most engaging sleuth.

Starr’s books are well-researched and have a very authentic feel. He uncovers the workings of the English feudal system, medieval church practices and medical techniques of the times. He also delivers a very satisfying mystery without benefit of crime scene technicians and forensic labs. Hugh uses his brains and very rudimentary detection devices — hoof prints in the mud, descriptions of the perpetrators and eyewitness accounts. Starr’s main character is also a witty chronicler of day to day life in medieval England. If you like mysteries and have a penchant for the Middle Ages, I recommend you pick up Starr’s books. The Tainted Coin is book 5 in the series (all can be read as standalones) so you will have many hours of enjoyable reading.

Highly Recommended.

(Thank you to Kregel for a copy of The Tainted Coin. The opinions expressed are mine alone.)

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