Mining Marilyn Brooks’ popular blog, Marilyn’s Mystery Reads, for some of her past reviews, yielded this gem. Ellis Peters’ memorable medieval sleuth, Brother Cadfael.
Review by Marilyn Brooks – From March 31, 2012
A truly fascinating look into medieval life in England comes through in the series featuring Brother Cadfael of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at Shrewsbury.
The series begins in the twelfth century at the border between England and Wales. Brother Cadfael, born in Wales, had traveled the world as a soldier in the first crusade and a sailor in the years following but now has found his calling as a member of the abbey. He is in charge of the abbey’s garden and herbarium, an important position at a time when home-grown medicines were almost the only ones available.
As the novel opens, a civil war between two cousins, Stephen and Maud, has been going on for three years; it eventually lasted nineteen. Henry I, Maud’s father, had named her his heir after the death of his only son, but many nobles rebelled at the thought of a woman leading the kingdom and thus supported the claims of Henry’s nephew, Stephen. As Stephen comes to Shrewsbury with his forces, aristocrats and soldiers loyal to Maud flee the town to join her in France.
A fellow monk introduces Cadfael to Godric, a “young man” who is willing to help in the garden, but it doesn’t take Cadfael long to realize that Godric is actually a young woman, Godith Adeney by name. Her father fled to France to support Maud, and if Godith is discovered she will be imprisoned and held for ransom in order to bring her father back to face Stephen. Cadfael, although not taking sides in the fight for the kingdom, vows to keep Godith’s secret and protect her.
After a battle in which ninety-four of Stephen’s enemies are killed, the abbey’s abbot requests that the men be prepared for a proper Christian burial. The abbot sends Cadfael to the castle to handle this task, but when the monk counts the dead, he discovers that there is one more body than he had been told. And this man was not killed in battle but strangled by a thin wire from behind.
In One Corpse Too Many, we are introduced to Hugh Beringar, a soldier who, in later novels, becomes a close friend of Cadfael’s, and the woman who becomes Hugh’s wife, Lady Aline. In addition, a number of Cadfael’s fellow monks whom we meet here, continue to appear in other novels while new members of the monastery join the cast of characters in later books.
The late Ellis Peters (real name Edith Mary Pargeter) created the character of Brother Cadfael when she needed “the high equivalent of a medieval detective, an observer and agent of justice in the center of the action.” She was a writer of some renown as a translator of Czech literature, but today she is best known for her mystery novels. Unfortunately, Ms. Peters died shortly after the BBC television series got underway and thus did not see all the books made into television programs, but she was a strong supporter of Derek Jacobi, who played Cadfael with great wit and charm.
There is not a dedicated page for Ellis Peters, but there is a brief biography about her and a summary of all Brother Cadfael’s novels at Philip Grosset’s Clerical Detectives web page located at http://www.mysteryfile.com/Clerical.html
Marilyn’s very popular mystery blog can be reached at marilynsmysteryreads.com When there, consider becoming a subscriber, receiving each new post in your email. And Marilyn will also be offering a mystery course for BOLLI members during the Fall 2017 term.