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

Summer of the Big Bachi

Mas Arai was a successful Japanese gardener in California after WWII but his life was less successful. By 1999 his wife was long dead and his only daughter no longer spoke to him, especially since moving to New York. His idea of athletic competition was betting on horse races.

While Mas was American born, he spent much of his youth in Hiroshima after his parents decided to return there before the war. He might have remained if it had not been for the atomic bomb. As the sole survivor of his family, he had to decide at age 16 to make a life in a ruined city or return to his birthplace.

Returning meant that he carried some powerful secrets with him, secrets he shared with no one else. In 1999, those secrets hit him in what the Japanese call a bachi–what mistakes you make will haunt you–mistakes result in bad karma–what goes around comes around–your sins will catch you out.

This is Hirahara’s first mystery and she chose to set the story within her own family’s history. Her father was born in California, returned to Hiroshima as a child, survived the bomb by begin 3 miles away. Her mother’s father was killed in the blast. After they married they returned to California and he became a gardener.

This is a short read and a great read. Hirahara’s writing style is top-shelf. I checked the Amazon review ratings and tried to see why she only had 58% five stars. Most of the complaints were that Mas was not likeable and there were too many characters. OK, I see the point. But as one reviewer put it, the book is “about a curmudgeonly Japanese gardener whose many sins are catching up with him.

I give her a 4.5-star rating.

Mike Lawrence