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

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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 Continue reading

Book Review: The Summer of the Danes by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Summer of the Danes (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #18) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“I do not spoil what I wish to sell,” agreed Otir. “And when I collect what is due me, it will be from the debtor.”

Outside the Main Sequence of Cadael stories, but a rollicking good tale. Whenever Cadfael has leave to get close to his Welsh roots, murder and mayhem are sure to follow. Here Cadfael must solve a crime with international implications or what passes for order in northern Wales may be overturned.

“Wonderful what riches a man can bestow who by choice and vocation possesses nothing!”

Many of the usual suspect—in type, if not in person—inhabit this chapter of the chronicles. If anything, the tale is populated with too many characters too similar. In addition to the usual murder mystery and romance, Pargeter reflects on matters of humility, duty and honor.

“There is no one who cannot be hated, against whatever odds. Nor anyone who cannot be loved, against all reason.”

Though maps are provided, a good map of northern Wales would be a handy supplement for those readers who like to stay grounded in the geography of the tale. The descriptions are such that no ones gets lost, who doesn’t want to.

“But when it comes down to it, as roads go, the road home is as good as any.”

Book Review: I, Libertine by Theodore Sturgeon (Three Stars)

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Book Review: I, Libertine by Theodore Sturgeon

(Three Stars)

“Because never in my life have I had life’s permission to develop the taste for simple pleasures, I shall pursue dark ones.”

Historical fiction as if done by Terry Pratchett. The intriguing background for this book can be found elsewhere. Knowing it only adds the Sturgeon’s accomplishment: he wrote a book which had supposedly already been written and did so with meticulous attention to historic detail and plausibility.

“We must present you as rake, not defiler; libertine rather than lecher.” “Libertine—I?” “Men have made greater sacrifices for king, country, and career.” “And how on earth am I to find just a proper scandal?” “Manufacture it, lad.”

Though set in 1770s England, the story is something of a send up of Continue reading

Book Review: The Potter’s Field by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Potter’s Field (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #17) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“Earth is innocent. Only the use we make of it can mar it.”

Murder, maybe. Red herrings, false accusations, and budding romance abound. Mystery’s video got close to right.

“I made a choice. It was even a hard choice, but I made it, and I hold to it. I am no such elect saint as Ruald.” “Is that a saint? It seems too easy.”

In the midst of a twisting whodunit, Pargeter explores the nature of a religious vocation and issues of life and death. Well plotted.

“If I am become a mere subtle, suspicious old man, too prone to see devious practices where none are, then I would rather not draw any other man into Continue reading

Book Review: The Heretic’s Apprentice by Ellis Peters (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Heretic’s Apprentice (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #16) by Ellis Peters

(Three Stars)

“Men are feeble, and go aside to hide their feebleness.”

Not the best of the series, but a well-developed plot which fit well into the historical setting. A new character, Bishop Roger de Clinton, is introduced who while historical will figure in several forthcoming Cadfael stories.

“I have learned not to put any villainy out of the any man’s reach. Nor any goodness, either.”

Peters demonstrates her virtuosity in weaving real events, people and objects into her fictional universe, increasing both verisimilitude and enjoyment.

“Yet we are told a tree shall be known by its fruit. Divine grace … will know where to look for a responsive human grace, without instruction from us.”

An exploration of medieval ecclesiastical doings. All was not witch hunts and burning of heretics, but the threat to church orthodoxy and authority was very real. While Ellis Peters’ Cadfael fiction series avoids the church bashing indulged by the Mystery videos of the same name, she does recognize there were institutional and individual abuses.

“But if justice is to be denied to the inadequate, grudging and sad, to whom then is it due?”

Book Review: The Confession of Brother Haluin by Ellis Peters. (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Confession of Brother Haluin (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #15) by Ellis Peters.

(Three Stars)

“There are some born to do penance by nature. Maybe they lift the load for some of us who take it quite comfortably that we’re mankind, and not angels.”

Another yawner, though it has a pleasing denouement. For a change there’s no love-at-first-seeing young lovers. Love and marriage and power were handled differently then.

“It was too late to exact penance from a dying man, and deathbed comfort cannot be priced, only given freely.”

Pargeter explores the nature of repentance and penance. We moderns are quick to apologize because we don’t mean it; we’re sorry we got caught or were inconvenienced. Medieval society had a different attitude toward sin and repentance. Very different.

“No doubt but that pride is a sin, and unbecoming a Benedictine brother, but not so easily shed with the spurs and titles of nobility.”

Cadfael has the most amazing ability to be at just the right place at just the right time. The way he stumbles over bodies, sometimes literally, he should have been afraid to walk in the dark.

“Truth can be costly, but in the end it never falls short of value for the price paid.”

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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.”