Book Review: The Hermit of Eyton Forest by Ellis Peters (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Hermit of Eyton Forest (Chronicles of Borther Cadfael #14) by Ellis Peters

(Three Stars)

“Not much love in all that household to be gained or lost. But good haters, every one.”

Formulaic. Love at first sight conquers all. Little relation to the main sequence of the Cadfael timeline or English history.

Nice to find the occasional self-centered, hypocrite who isn’t a villain; Pargeter credits the nobility with a genteelness which pushes credibility.

“His fame, banned from being spread openly, went about by neighborly whispers, like a prized secret to be exulted in privately but hidden from the world.”

Pargeter explores the role and position of hermits in medieval society, a concept so foreign to contemporary culture that she might as well have been writing fantasy.

“Nothing is more pleasing and engaging than the sense of having conferred benefits. Not even the gratification of receiving them.”

The introduction of a doughty ten-year old is a refreshing departure Continue reading

Book Review: The Rose Rent by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Rose Rent (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #13) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“What does it prove?” “It proves that I am a fool, said Cadfael ruefully, “though I have sometimes suspected as much myself.”

One of the better chronicles of Cadfael. A convoluted who-dun-it with excursions into the meaning of justice, vocation and love. For a refreshing change, the potential lovers are not starry-eyed youths. And several may have mercenary motives.

“In happiness or unhappiness, living is a duty, and must be done thoroughly.”

Medieval life was hard, doubly so for a widow. And a rich widow had her own threats, some of them Continue reading

Book Review: The Raven in the Foregate by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Raven in the Foregate (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #12) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“A man with every virtue, except humility and human kindness. That is what I have brought upon the Foregate, Robert. And now what are we to do about him?”

Medieval clergy at their worst, and Cadfael at his best. Will he fail to unravel this skein and innocents will suffer? Who is innocent?

“Keep him out of sight. I’m no mind to clap a good lad into prison for being loyal to a cause which isn’t mine.”

A good medieval murder mystery with the usual political; and romantic entanglements, but the stories are getting formulaic.

“You are a devious creature. I wonder why I bear with you?” Hugh turned in the doorway to give him a flashing glance over his shoulder. “Like calling to like, I daresay!”

Book Review: An Excellent Mystery By Ellis Peters (Five Stars)


Book Review: An Excellent Mystery (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #11) By Ellis Peters

(Five Stars)

“Happiness … consists in small things, not in great. It is the small things we remember, when time and mortality close in, and by small landmarks we may make our way at last humbly into another world.”

One of my favorite Cadfael mysteries. All the usual elements with an extra leavening of misdirection. Several women perform active, critical roles in this story.

“But we need you now.” “We?” “Cadfael and I. Who else?” “So I supposed.”

Once again Edith Pargeter weaves her romantic detective mystery into the historical setting of England’s twelfth century civil way known as The Anarchy. Outside the immediate cast, many of the characters are historic.

“Death stood no great distance away, and advanced one gentle step with every hour that passed.”

Though Cadfael is a modern man in many ways, Pargeter anchors him in the faith and science of his time.

“We leave here all by the same gate.”

Book Review: The Pilgrim of Hate by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Pilgrim of Hate (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #10) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“He saw no reason why he should expect to be singled out for healing, but he said that he offered his pain freely, who had nothing else to give.”

This tale draws us back into an England at war with itself. Death abounds on every hand and yet so does nobility. Cadfael finds himself at the crossroads of faith and duty. As his faith falters, that of another draws him higher.

“People are endlessly mysterious, and I am endlessly curious.”

As usual appearances deceive. Young love muddles allegiances. Cadfael finds unexpected blessing. Oliver de Bretagne appears again.

Quibble: “Henry the first’s daughter” When there is not yet a second king Henry, the first is the only. Ignore blurb; it’s misleading.

“The least of us may be an instrument of grace, though not by his own deserving.”

Dame Parteger was not a particular defender of Christianity, but she wrote her characters true to the time. All except Cadfael, of course, who is a thoroughly twentieth-century man.

“God forbid, thought Cadfael, that I should meddle there. Nothing short of a saint should knock on that door.”

Book Review: Max Carrados by Ernest Bramah (Three Stars)


Book Review: Max Carrados by Ernest Bramah

(Three Stars)

“The thing is very simple.” “They always are—when you know.”

Century old tales of a blind detective. Well done but dated. Compare favorably with later detective novels.

“In order to have an accurate knowledge of what a man will do on any occasion it is only necessary to study a single characteristic action of his.”

Carrados solves crimes by preternaturally developed senses other than vision as well as help from other and incredible luck.

“The greater the confidence the greater the risk.”

Book Review: Dead Man’s Ransom by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: Dead Man’s Ransom (The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #9) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“There has not been a waking moment since when I have not wished it undone, but to undo is not so easy as to do.”

Murder, star-crossed lovers, battles, international politics, and mystery: who could ask for more? Brother Cadfael travels into his native Wales on an errand of mercy that goes hopelessly wrong. Dame Parteger takes the reader into the shadowlands where good intentions and impulse actions create a lifetime of sorrow.

“If your cousin had been half the man you are, your life would be safe enough.” “Have you not understood even yet? He’s is better than I, a thousand times better!”

Slow start with copious history dumps. Parteger usually does a better job Continue reading

Book Review: Mission Critical, edited by Jonathan Strahan (Four Stars)


Book Review: Mission Critical, edited by Jonathan Strahan

(Four Stars)

“Chance wouldn’t save them. If she left this to chance, they would die.”

The best SF anthology I’ve read in years. Most anthologies trade on famous names or unlikely “best of” claims; this one focuses on short stories and novelettes about what happens after a disaster. Admittedly inspired by Andy Weir’s The Martian. Nice cover art.

“It’s easy to make a ‘hard’ choice when the price is paid by someone else.”

No story rates less than three stars; a few are outstanding. “This is not the Way Home” harks back to the Golden Age of SF but with Continue reading

Book Review: Honorable Treachery by G. J. A. O’Toole (Three Stars)


Book Review: Honorable Treachery: A History of U. S. Intelligence, Espionage, and Covert Action from the American Revolution to the CIA by G. J. A. O’Toole

(Three Stars)

Encyclopedic but mind-numbing. To cover the topic O’Toole set out for himself necessarily demands an encyclopedic effort. On a technical level he succeeds.

“We find by fatal experience, the Congress consists of too many members to keep secrets.” John Jay, 1790

Reads like a history book, footnotes and all. Too many biographical personal details about the people and too little about what they did. Published in 1991.

“We failed to anticipate Pearl Harbor not for want of relevant materials, but because of a plethora of irrelevant ones.” “The president’s chief intelligence office, the one person in the government responsible for national intelligence, had not even been told of Continue reading

Book Review: The Devil’s Novice by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Devil’s Novice (The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #8) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“Suspicion drapes itself round him like cobwebs on the autumn bush.”

Another excellent excursion into medieval England. Ellis’ world building is worthy the best of fantasy—simultaneously delivering verisimilitude and a sense of other.

“Cadfael … had considerable sympathy with the ardent young, who overdo everything, and take wing at a line of verse of a snatch of music.”

This chronicle explores the matter of love. Not just romantic, but familial and patriotic. What might a man or woman do for someone (or some cause) they truly love. Die for it? Kill for it? Take the blame for another?

“I never knew a postulant to pursue his novitiate with so much passion, and so little joy.”

Moderns, of course, cannot imagine a young person willing exiting Continue reading