I just finished reading To Kill or Cure, the 13th volume in the series of the Chronicles of Matthew Batholomew. This is an unusual series in that it takes place in 14th century Cambridge, with the two investigators being a monk and a physician from an earlier college called Michaelhouse. Part of the appeal of those books is that the colleges mentioned in the books are real and that the major events are also inspired from real facts… Most characters are also well-rendered, even though they may think and behave in too modern a fashion for that time: it is somehow too easy to make a physician offering “modern” medical theories about plague, diseases and anatomy when writing centuries later! But I did like the description of the Plague in the first book and the impact on the English society as described in the later volumes. Another part of the appeal is obviously the description of the working patterns of Cambridge colleges at that time, circa 1350, with the fights between scholars, colleges, as well as the rivalry with Oxford and the animosity between “town and gown”, the scholars being protected from trivial law by being granted a religious status. The descriptions of teaching, of student mentoring and of scholarly excellence are also central to most books and make for an interesting reading, even though I cannot judge how accurate they would be. In the 13th volume, one major thread is the recruiting of two new Fellows of the College, which is fairly entertaining for being in some aspects quite close to the current practice!
The criminal plots are not always excellent, though, and the current volume is certainly lacking in this respect. As in several previous volumes, the conclusion is very abrupt, rather unexpected, and the recovery of both main characters rather unrealistic. (The convenient demise of a central character in the Fens, as well as the sudden threat of the poisoned wine in the final pages is very reminiscent of earlier books, if a minor nuisance.) If you have already gone through the twelve previous volumes, you should find this one entertaining nonetheless!