I think the 13th Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew is my favourite Susanna Gregory to date. To Kill or Cure has a little bit of everything to make an enjoyable and intriguing mystery.
First, there are all the familiar characters: Brother Matthew, of course, the physician without whom no mystery would be solved; Brother Michael, Senior Proctor of Cambridge University, who is actually charged with keeping the peace and solving murders; Deynman, Matthew’s oldest and most inept student who has to be kept from graduating as a physician lest he kill someone by accident; Matthew’s sister, Edith, and her husband, a wealthy merchant in the town; Father William, a former inquisitor and bigoted Franciscan (with an abhorrence of cleanliness) who despises Dominicans; Langelee, currently Master of Michaelhouse, who has a mysterious past that has to do with soldiering and spying.
Then there are multiple bodies, some murdered and some dead from natural causes, or actually faking death. Seriously injured students, scholars, and townsfolk (some of whom have disappeared) are added to the mix as a result of the rent war between town and university hostels, another worrisome situation that falls under the senior proctor’s purview and is rapidly getting out of hand.
Finally, we have a series of comical Fellows, dangerous deviants, and misguided or misleading students. With the natural death of Kenyngham, a saintly and much-loved Fellow of Michaelhouse, begins the unseemly haste to replace him before term begins and the two chosen to join are Honynge and Tyrington, the former an arrogant scholar who carries on conversations with himself in the presence of others, the latter a capable scholar who has the most unfortunate habit of leering and spitting all over everything and everybody when he speaks. The arrival in town of a spellbinding healer, Arderne, whose methods include the waving of a magic feather and the discrediting of the established physicians (including Matthew) stirs up the townsfolk even further against the University and causes Matthew to doubt his own abilities and conclusions. He is certain that Kenyngham died of natural causes but checks a second time as Michael believes he was poisoned partly due to anonymous letters he has received.
When Master Lynton, a scholar from Peterhouse, seemingly drives his horse straight into a cart in the center of Cambridge, falling dead and destroying the cart which was carrying a landlord, his lady friend, and his potboy, bedlam ensues, more injuries occur and the accident turns out to be murder. The potboy is killed, a student is seriously injured and then mysteriously vanishes, and Matthew removes evidence from the bodies to avoid more rioting. Matthew and Michael’s investigation of the deaths lead them to find they did not know Lynton at all. Former patients turn against the physicians, people whose kin died during the plague blame them for ineptitude, and even poor folk whose lives were saved are convinced they would be better off if Arderne had been present. Even one of Matthew’s brightest students turns against him and apprentices himself to Arderne. Is Arderne the murderer? Or is that wishful thinking on the part of Matthew and Michael? Did Arderne truly raise a student from the dead? And who is skulking around graveyards and colleges in the dead of night?
With a surprising twist, Matthew and Michael reveal the true killer and divine justice intervenes to return tranquility to Cambridge and prevent Arderne from plying his deadly practice in other towns. One of the best medieval mysteries yet. * * * * *