Today’s mystery is another by Susanna Gregory in her Matthew Bartholomew series. This is the 20th chronicle and it is truly amazing that Bartholomew and his friend Brother Michael have survived through this many murder investigations, given the violence prevalent in Medieval times, and the way the two bumble around being totally off track until they’re facing a crossbow, locked in a barn being set on fire, or imprisoned in a basement under a church. However, they are a thundering good read.
In Death of a Scholar, there are strong undercurrents in Cambridge. While Senior Proctor Brother Michael has been absent, John Winwick, Keeper of the Privy Seal and a favourite of the king’s, has plunged forward at breakneck speed to establish a new college in Cambridge named after himself. In the midst of a university that likes to take its time making decisions, it isn’t long before their jealousies between the older, established colleges and Winwick Hall. It is going to teach only law and new students are arriving daily until the local inns are bulging. The town, which dislikes the university and its students at the best of time, is erupting in quarrels and fights, and with Sheriff Tulyet away in London leaving Deputy de Stannell in charge, there is no cooperation between town and university authority.
While Michael has to solve the murder of his deputy proctor, and the murder of one of the scholars at Winwick, Matthew is having problems of his own. Returning himself from an absence, he finds his brother-in-law dead, his sister Edith in mourning and convinced that her husband was poisoned. Then, when called to assist other doctors at the deathbed of the notorious (and now wealthy) thief, John Potmoor, Matthew arrives to find the other medici have already declared Potmoor dead. But, recognizing the paralytic symptoms of catalepsia, Matthew takes out his smelling salts and revives the “corpse”, exacerbating the rumours of him being a warlock and using witchcraft to cure his patients.
Added to these problems are the escalating dissension between Brother William of Michaelhouse and his Dominican fellows, and the charitable guild created by Edith’s husband is no longer helping the poor and hungry of the town but is funnelling vast amounts of money into the new Winwick Hall. His nephew, Richard, is fomenting trouble in the town, and town and university alike are experiencing thefts which are attributed to Potmoor and Matthew is blamed for having “risen him from the dead”. Matthew’s new students are disobedient and disrespectful and he wishes he could be rid of them. Also, Oxford University has been closed by the king and the pope due to an issue about the wealth of the church, and now Cambridge is beginning its new term with a fellows debate between Michaelhouse and Winwick on the very topic.
There is actually quite a bit of humour in this episode. When Matthew is talking with a member of the Michaelhouse choir, Verius tells him that Brother Michael “has promised to execute a conductor” for them, mistaking a processional piece of music — a conductus — for a person. He continues, “I am not sure who he intends to kill, but it will be interesting to see.” When Matthew explains his error, Verius says, with much disappointment, “Well, no matter. I shall probably enjoy myself anyway.”
Matthew is being run ragged being called to “raise corpses” the way he did with Potmoor, and examining other corpses as several more scholars die under mysterious circumstances. The new hall is crumbling where shortcuts were taken to complete it in haste. And Michael and Matthew are racing against time to prevent rioting before the dedication of Winwick Hall. Matthew once again displays a total lack of perception about the female sex but eventually comes through to help Michael solve the murders and the thefts. A fast-paced romp full of misconceptions and red herrings. * * * * *
It’s very easy to participate in my Mystery Monday meme. Just post a review of your latest mystery read on your own site, and then a comment on my post with a link to yours. Drag or copy my meme logo and add it to your post along with these few rules. Simplicity itself! I look forward to learning about more great mysteries to add to my ever-growing list of To Be Read.