Jan. 12th, 2017

jazzy_dave: (bookish)
Ellis Peters "Monk's Hood " (Sphere)

This is the first novel i have read from this author. These books follow the investigative exploits of Brother Cadfael.

Monk's Hood, which is the third Brother Cadfael mystery, is set in the fall of 1138 when Shrewsbury is recovering from its participation in the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud. Shrewsbury Abbey is experiencing some changes of its own: the gentle Abbot Heribert has been called to a Legatine Council that will likely strip him of his authority, and the ambitious Prior Robert eagerly takes his place pending the Council's ruling. Meanwhile, a wealthy landowner, Gervase Bonel, cedes his estate to the abbey in return for a comfortable place to live out his days... only, those days aren't very long. After eating a delicacy sent him by Prior Robert, Bonel dies in the agonies of poison.

In the course of his investigations, Cadfael comes into contact with a variety of people in Bonel's household — among them an old flame, Richildis, who is now Bonel's widow. This gives rise to various musings on what might have been and the life Cadfael has chosen instead. Peters skirts the edges of cynicism without quite brushing up against it: hard to do, to achieve that resignation that is actually quite content without casting aspersions on the reality of romantic attachment.

Like several other well-known literary sleuths, Cadfael uses his own discretion when it comes to unveiling and punishing the murderer. In this case he does not expose the murderer to public justice, choosing instead to set a lifelong penance that will, he hopes, do the world more good than would justice according to the letter of the law. Cadfael is already set apart from the other characters by his uncanny wisdom in getting to the bottom of murder, but does this give him the right to administer justice as he sees fit? I'm not sure how I feel about this; despite Cadfael's brilliance, he's still a fallible human being. Only one other character, Hugh Beringar, dimly guesses at how Cadfael has disposed of the case.

Peters' writing is so smoothly effortless that it would be easy to take it for granted. Most readers don't look for great literature in the murder mystery genre, but that doesn't mean that the technical brilliance of the plotting should outweigh the style of the prose. Peters writes characters who are believable in their historic setting and personal relationships, with an unfaltering narrative voice that is both lively and original. She is also noted for the historical faithfulness of her work.

Cadfael's a great character, the mysteries are well plotted, and the prose is excellent.


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