Mystery in the Minster by Susanna Gregory

7 October, 2011

Susanna Gregory’s 17th foray into historical crime featuring the physician Matthew Bartholomew, Mystery in the Minster, takes the 14th century sleuth away from Cambridge and Michaelhouse College to York before term begins to settle a disputed legacy. Together with Cynric, his loyal Welsh servant, Michaelhouse’s Master Langelee, Brother Michael, a Benedictine and Senior Proctor of Cambridge, and Radeford, a lawyer, Bartholomew must delve into the mysterious deaths that have dogged a missing codicil granting Michaelhouse the church and living of Huntingdon from Langelee’s former master William Zouche, the Archbishop of York.

Before becoming the Master of Michaelhouse College in Cambridge, Ralph Langelee was a trusted servant of Zouche, working with him to ensure peace and stability in York during a time of strife and the ever present danger of French attacks. Langelee is tight-lipped about what this work entailed but what isn’t disputed is Langelee’s affection for his former boss and his sorrow that Zouche’s last wish, that a chapel be built for him to atone for his sins, hasn’t been completed even after nine years. The money has disappeared together with the codicil bequeathing Michaelhouse the parish of Huntingdon and, on top of that, Zouche’s closest advisors have started to die. The Michaelhouse men must use their wits against the vicars choral who are hellbent on keeping Huntingdon for themselves and there is the danger of being accused as French spies. Bartholomew has his work cut out as he uses his medical knowledge to see whether murder has been committed, keeps his friends out of harm’s way and their purity intact against Zouche’s beautiful nieces and watch out for mischief from the vicars choral who seem oddly obsessed with shoes. Will Michaelhouse get Huntingdon? And more importantly, will they survive York?

Once again, Gregory brings 14th century England to life; this time it is the great city of York instead of Cambridge. Although Bartholomew is well travelled and was trained in Paris, he is struck by the cosmopolitan nature of York, its magnificent Minster, its great hospital that takes the issue of hygiene seriously (a rare occurrence even after the Black Death) and the necessity for hats (to protect the head from unwelcome fluids being thrown out of windows.) One of the new things I learnt in this volume was the existence of the vicars choral, lay members of the community who look after the choral duties of the busier church canons, who seem to have wielded much power in medieval York.

I’m a huge fan of Matthew Bartholomew and his coterie of eccentric Michaelhouse Fellows and although the mystery isn’t as taxing and some of the characters may lack subtlety, Gregory’s novels give a welcome glimpse into a violent, dirty, smelly and yet fascinating period in English history. More please!

There is only one issue that has been bugging me in the last few books and that is, where is Mathilde? She’s one of my favourite characters after Matthew Bartholomew and Brother Michael (of course) and I miss her!

I recommend reading these mysteries in order so that you don’t miss out on the everchanging friendships and relationships that make this series so wonderful. Begin with A Plague on Both Your Houses.

I would like to thank the lovely people at Little, Brown Book Group for kindly sending me a copy of this book to review.

I read this as part of the R.I.P. VI Challenge.

7 Responses to “Mystery in the Minster by Susanna Gregory”

  1. I haven’t read any of this series yet although I think it’s one I would enjoy. Murder, history….what’s not to love? I like the fact that this one is set in York too (not too far from me) so I would probably know a lot of the places mentioned: could this be read as a stand-alone or would you still recommend reading in order?

    • sakura Says:

      I guess you could read it as a standalone, but I would recommend reading at least one earlier book just to get a feel of the characters in their usual setting in Cambridge (as this is the 17th book!) Also, it would depend if the general continuity/larger story would bother you (as it would me – I always need to start at the beginning.) But if not, go for it!

  2. Mystica Says:

    Absolutely new to me and I am making a note of the first book recommended. Thanks. It is such a big series let me try to start.

  3. Violet Says:

    I can’t imagine writing seventeen books featuring the same character, but she seems to be going strong, except for losing Mathilde along the way. Glad you’re still enjoying the series. 🙂

    • Robyn Surtees Says:

      Well…Ellis Peters wrote 20 Brother Cadfael novels plus three BC short stories; Peter Tremayne has written 25 Sister Fidelma books, and Michael Jecks 32 Sir Baldwin and Simon the Bailiff mysteries….they had stamina, these mediaeval sleuths!

  4. Cathy Says:

    Your review reminds me that I’ve got to continue on with this series. I started it a couple of years ago and have yet to pick up the next book. I need to be cloned, I tell you!

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