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"The Tarnished Chalice" is the twelfth book in the Matthew Bartholomew series by Susanna Gregory. The series has run to fourteen chronicles now and number fifteen is due in June this year. It is set in 14th Century Cambridge and revolves around Dr Matthew Bartholomew who helps to solve murders/mysteries by inspecting bodies, usually at the request of his good friend Brother Michael.
I first discovered Susanna Gregory and the Matthew Bartholomew chronicles a few years ago and have read them sporadically - usually in no particular order. The books are easy enough to read as stand alone books although they are part of a series, but they are generally more enjoyable when read in sequence.
By this, the twelfth book, the reader will usually be familiar with the characters but I will give a broad overview. In this book, Michael and Bartholomew are in Lincoln, so there is not the usual extensive cast of familiar characters from Cambridge.
Bartholomew lives in Michaelhouse, one of the colleges which make up the University of Cambridge, although he is not a monk but a lay brother of the order. He teaches medicine but is seen as unorthodox (and sometimes as a heretic) because of his unusal ideas about medicine i.e. washing his hands etc.
Bartholomew learned abroad from an arabic teacher and also learned to dissect bodies which is not allowed in England at this time as it is against Church teachings.
He has come to Lincoln with Brother Michael in order to search for Matilde, the woman he is in love with. Bartholomew left it too late to ask Matilde to marry him so she left Cambridge and no one has seen her since.
Brother Michael is a monk who also teaches in Michaelhouse but he is also the junior Proctor of the University and so has quite a lot of power. Michael is quite a humourous character as he is quite fat and not averse to the company of women. In fact, he doesn't act like a monk at all and is quite ambitious, both within the University and the Church. He also has the University Chancellor in his power, as the Chancellor is scared of him.
Michael is Bartholomew's greatest ally and has appointed him the University Corpse Examiner which provides him with an income. The friendship between Michael and Bartholomew is well painted and realistic as they have spats with each other quite frequently. The humourous nature of their relationship adds a lot to the series as a whole.
Michael has travelled to Lincoln to receive an honour from the Cathedral and has brought Bartholomew along to try and cheer him up.
The pair are soon dragged into trouble (again) when one of the other guests in the friary where they are staying is murdered. The guest is also meant to have had the Hugh Chalice - a mysterious Lincoln relic with a bloody history.
This was another enjoyable medieval romp from Susanna Gregory and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The relationship between Michael and Bartholomew is funny and helped to hold my interest. The mystery itself was well written and there was no shortage of suspects.
One thing I do find with these books is that sometimes the denouement can be dragged out a bit. They can be a bit silly but the historical detail is excellent and really brings the medieval period to life.
I really enjoyed this and would recommend it to those who already know and love Bartholomew. For new readers, you could read this book as it stands alone fairly well but in order to understand the back story it's better to read the chronicles in order.
This review is also on Ciao under the username mogdred1.
On a bitter winter evening in 1356, Matthew Bartholomew and Brother Michael arrive in Lincoln - Michael to accept an honour from the cathedral, and Bartholomew to look for the woman he wants to marry. It is not long before they learn that the friary in which they are staying is not the safe haven they imagine - one guest has already been murdered. It soon emerges that the dead man was holding the Hugh Chalice, a Lincoln relic with a curiously bloody history. Bartholomew and Michael are soon drawn into a web of murder, lies and suspicion in a city where neither knows who can be trusted.