The Leper of Saint Giles

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by Ellis Peters

Published 1981

Well, if you happen to be reading these entries in the order in which I am posting them, I apologize–The Leper of Saint Giles is the fifth of the Brother Cadfael books, while The Virgin in the Ice is the sixth.  Somehow, I missed a page of my book log and skipped over this one!

And really, it ought not be skipped, because it is a good tale, as all of these books are.  Much of this book takes place in the abbey’s nearby shelter/church for lepers, the church of Saint Giles.  There, Brother Cadfael’s dear friend, and prior assistant, Brother Mark, is serving these needy individuals.  Brother Mark is one of my very favorite characters; he crops up throughout the series, always kind and full of servant-love.  One of the things that I greatly enjoyed about this  book was its emphasis on how even those that we normally dismiss without a second thought (in this case, the lepers) are still human–full of emotion and stories, and still inherently valuable.

Read these books.  No, seriously.  5/5.

The Virgin in the Ice

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by Ellis Peters

Published 1982

In this next book in the Cadfael series, Brother Cadfael finds himself doing a great deal of winter traveling.  It’s a very cold sort of book.

This particular mystery (excellent, as always) has excellent lessons in how God works through tragedy, and how our impulsive decisions can have a great deal of impact on others.  It also introduces a very important character for the future…  this series does an unbelievably good job of weaving twenty complete and individual stories into a harmonious whole.

My reviews for these books get rather redundant, because I hesitate to discuss details–I want everyone to read these books for themselves!  They are beautifully written mysteries, full of history and depth.  5/5.

Saint Peter’s Fair

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by Ellis Peters

Published 1981

Another gem in the Brother Cadfael series.  In this fourth book, the annual abbey’s fair is being held.  But with Shrewsbury still in the midst of England’s civil war, the fair can be a place for more than honest trading.  Also, feelings are still running high in the town, which has suffered from the war.

The story is exciting, the mystery is good, and the wisdom of Brother Cadfael–and in this book, particularly, Father Abbot–shines through.

5/5.

Monk’s Hood

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by Ellis Peters

Published 1980

In this third Brother Cadfael book, the brothers at the Benedictine Abbey at Shrewsbury are in a state of uncertainty.  Their Father Abbot has been called to a meeting, and there is a strong possibility that he will return without the authority with which he is leaving.  Meantime, he feels that he must leave several pieces of business unfinished, for the new Abbot may not have the same inclinations as the old.  One of these items is the acceptance of an estate in exchange for the life-long care of the current owner and his wife.  When this man dies before that charter can be signed, it is up to Cadfael to determine whether or not the obvious suspect is actually the murderer.

One of the things that I love about these books is the rich background Peters provides.  Between these books and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, I am quite intrigued by Wales and Welsh culture, if for no other reason than every time I see Welsh names, they seem to include an impossible combination of letters.  This story also includes a meeting between Cadfael and the fiancee of his youth, providing us with more insight into the character that is Cadfael.

You’ll notice that this book cover is from the television series.  I only saw a few episodes, but it was actually a decent rendition.  However, these books are so full of characters and conversations, that, to me, the television version felt a bit abrupt and confusing if you weren’t already familiar with the story.  But it’s been a super long time since I watched, so I could be completely wrong.

Anyway, 5/5 for Cadfael.

One Corpse Too Many

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by Ellis Peters

Published 1979

This is the second of the Brother Cadfael books.  As I said, this is a series that deserves to be read from beginning to end.  In this book, we are introduced to other new and important recurring characters.  Although part of the fun of this book is trying to determine which of the characters that will be, so I will try to not tell you his name!

As a rule, my husband doesn’t even try to keep up with my reading material, but he did question why I was reading a book with such a picture on the cover!  :-D  But, as I said in the review of A Morbid Taste for Bonesthese stories are set during a civil war in England around 1140 (I think this book takes place in 1138).  In this story, King Stephen’s forces overrun Shrewsbury, which had been in the territory of the Empress Maud.  All of the garrison are unceremoniously hung (hence the cover picture).  The monks are given permission to care for the bodies, making them ready for burial, and allowing the people of the town an opportunity to collect their dead.  But in the midst of this rather gruesome, but necessary, task, Brother Cadfael discovers that there is one more body than there ought to be–a murderer has taken advantage of the fact that over 90 men were hung and thrown into one terrible pile, and added his own victim to them.

I so admire Cafael’s shrewd wisdom, and the battle of wits between himself and a younger foe makes for fantastic reading.

I can’t recommend these books highly enough.  5/5.

A Morbid Taste for Bones

by Ellis Peters (pen name for Edith Pargeter)

Published 1977

Whoops, I apparently forgot to take a picture of this one!

It has been several years since I have read the Brother Cadfael mysteries, and I am so excited about reading them again!  They are some of my favorite mysteries of all time, and if you have never read them, I can’t recommend them highly enough!

These mysteries are set in England during the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud in the early 1100’s, at a Benedictine monastery in Shrewsbury, a town very close to the border with Wales.  Brother Cadfael is a monk in his late 50’s or early 60’s who came to the monastery later in life; his younger life was spent fighting in the Crusades and having adventures of all kinds.  But now he is well and comfortably settled into his quiet life, content with his vows and the rhythm of life within the monastery.  As he says, he is like a ship come to rest in a peaceful harbor, and glad to reach it.  His focus now is the herb gardens and the medicines and such that they produce.  As such, he is almost an apothecary,  helping to care for the minor illnesses and ailments of the residents within the monastery, and also within the town of Shrewsbury.    Cadfael is also Welsh by birth, and, living so close to the border, is often called upon as a translator.

It is in this role that he ends up traveling with a small deputation of brothers into Wales to retrieve the bones of a minor saint.  Prior Robert has been determined for some months to bring glory to their house by means of a saint’s remains, and he has found one at last.  However, not everyone in Gwytherin is willing to part with their beloved local saint.

I will not try to describe the plot here.  You simply should read this book.  And then I think that you will want to read the next nineteen books as well, because they are equally well-written and delightful.  They are good mysteries, yes, but they are also simply brilliant books.  Peters is known for her in-depth research and historical accuracy, but I more admire her for  her ability to so perfectly capture human nature.  We all have good and evil struggling within us, and she beautifully records that.  Brother Cadfael himself is delightfully human, but also delightfully wise and insightful; I love reading this book wherein the hero is a man well past his first youth, who replaces youthful zeal and enthusiasm with tempered wisdom and thoughtfulness.

Every single one of these books has the perfect ending.  I get to the end and heave a deep sigh of completely contentment, for all is as it should be.  The series itself progresses through time and reintroduces characters; these books really must be read in order.  Thankfully, Peters was able to complete the final book before her death in 1995 (Brother Cadfael’s Penance was published in 1994), and it, too, is perfect.