An Excellent Mystery

This is book 11 of 21 Brother Cadfael mysteries. Peters wrote most of them in the ’80’s when I first read some of them. A few years ago I decided to read all of them in order. For the math-challenged, I’m just over halfway there.

The setting is the very real town of Shrewsbury, UK, just England in the 12th Century. The county of Shropshire borders on Wales. Brother Cadfael is Welch. You can Google the town today and see the castle and part of the monastery as well as the river that plays a part in most of the stories.

Ellis Peters is actually Edith Mary Pargeter who published her first novel in 1936 and her last in 1994 (the last Cadfael). While she is best known in the US for the Cadfael series, she received several awards and accolades for translating Czech classics into English and English to Czech.

I understand that her books may not appeal to most modern readers. We now expect to see action on page one. Here is the opening sentence of this novel followed by the last sentence of the long paragraph.

August came in, that summer of 1141, tawny as a lion and somnolent and purring as a hearthside cat… When this golden weather broke at last, it might well break in violent storms, but as yet the skies remained bleached and clear, the palest imaginable blue.

She writes mysteries in a beautiful literary style. Many see it as plodding but I like the beauty of it.  I’ll add that the opening paragraph about the hot summer–repeated a number of times in the story–is a foretelling of the climatic event.

I will say that this is not the best of the first eleven. There is always at least one new character who is an intriguing puzzle and that is true of Brother Fidelis. Yet, I did figure out what was going on much earlier than ever before.

These books are not cozy mysteries but in that neighborhood. Given the author’s age, that should not surprise.

If you are not sure about this series but would like to try one, go to the local library and check out One Corpse Too Many. It is her second of the series and the best of the 11.

Mike Lawrence

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