Book Review: The Holy Thief by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Holy Thief: Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #19 by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“Cadfael shook himself free of vain wondering about souls that passed as strangers, and sighed, and went back into the church to say a brief word into Saint Winifred’s ear before going to his work in the garden.”

Classic Cadfael mystery: murder, misdirection, pride and humility, and of course young lovers. This story builds on several previous, especially The Potter’s Field.

“Many eyes followed the turning of the key, and the installation of the coffer on the altar, where awe of heaven would keep it from violation.”

In some ways a more religious story than many other chronicles, Pargeter explores vows, relics, penance, and various medieval religious practices: some good, some bad. Cadfael prays; Gospels settle disputes; relics disappear; alms are solicited; miracles happen; Brother Jerome gets his.

“But I was born a slave.” “There is no escape.” “Escape to what? Another worse bondage?”

Slavery rears its ugly head. People owning people is an age-old practice and is just as dehumanizing in the twelfth as in the nineteenth century.

“It is only that the step from perfectly ordinary things into the miraculous seems to me so small, almost accidental, that I wonder why it astonishes you at all, or that you trouble to reason about it. If it were reasonable it could not be miraculous, could it?” Aline

The Cadfael television series gets a lot wrong and some right, but one great lose is the over-simplification required to fit a complex novel into ninety minutes. For example, Hugh’s relationship with Cadfael is cut down and his wife, Aline, who is a recurring presence and participant in the novels, only appears in the first TV episode.

“Of course he is a good liar, that’s part of his fantasies. You would have to be very sure of him and yourself to know when he’s lying, and when he’s telling the truth.”