Friday, 12 September 2014

Death of a Scholar by Susanna Gregory

Cambridge, Lammas Day (1 August) 1358

Oswald Stanmore knew he was dying.

There is not as much conflict here as people may think. I mean, we all die. If the line was something like: He knew he would die, then that would raise more questions. However, in this first paragraph of this prologue, we learn that Oswald has some secrets and has been a naughty boy and needs to destroy any evidence of his his wrongdoings before he begins the arduous task of concentrating on his immortal soul. So we do get a hook in the first paragraph, which is not to say that the opening line fails, it's a great leading line.

Chapter 1

It was an inauspicious start for a new College.

This line, however, has a whiff of preamble to it. A big stink of preamble, actually, giving the opening line a watered-down vague character to it. The next line is where the story starts and would have made a much more powerful opening line, as it has character and conflict:

Geoffrey de Elvesmere of Winwick Hall lay dead in the latrine, sprawled inelegantly with his clothes in disarray around him.

I like the euphemistic phrase: sprawled inelegantly. Quickly we are presented with a body and a problem in the first paragraph of chapter 1. We learn something about the victim and the detective Matthew Bartholomew all in the first paragraph. Geoffrey would have been horrified at the spectacle he was providing for gawping onlookers. Readers are no different then those onlookers and out of curiosity read on.

First thing said:

"Marsh fever."

This comes in the prologue and moves the plot forward a little, which makes for effective dialogue in an opening. In this case, it reveals what is supposed to be ailing Oswald. He knows differently, though.

Verdict: Pass (Definitely)

For those who love mysteries there is enough mystery in the opening to hook. For those who love historical, there is enough history in the opening to hook. I like the writing style, but that's no surprise as it's coming from a UKer. So this gets a 3.5 stars out of 5.

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

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