Book Review: Time and Tide by Shirley Mckay (four stars)

Book Review: Time and Tide (Hew Cullan Mystery #3) by Shirley Mckay (four stars)

‘Giles seeks to tell the truth, yet truth itself at times is not the most efficient strategy, for it is often not what people wish to hear.’

Excellent late medieval mystery set in St. Andrews, Scotland. Third in series. Suggest new readers start with Huw and Cry.

‘You are, I think, impertinent, which may require correction.’ ‘I bow to your direction, sir,’ Hew retorted dryly. ‘It’s clear that you do not. And that is why I want you.’

Good character development and plotting. The reader need only relax and enjoy the ride.

‘Though, I prefer to be pragmatical . . .’ ‘You prefer to be equivocal,’

Like Edith Parteger, Mckay projects a fairly modern protagonist into a late Middle Ages setting. Echoes of the Cadfael-Huw Beringer relationship. Many Parallels to the Cadfael Chronicles, but not a rip-off.

‘But to take the law in your hands . . .’ ‘Nor law, but justice, [redacted], for law would little serve her in this case.’ ‘Be careful, [redacted]’. ‘For law belongs to man, and justice comes from God.’ ‘To whom [redacted] will devote herself.

Book Review: The Good Knight by Sarah Woodbury (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Good Knight (Gareth and Gwen Medieval Mysteries, #1) by Sarah Woodbury

(Four Stars)

“I can accept that we can’t always live the life we imagined.” “I’ve paid for my choices, Gwen,” Gareth said. “I’d prefer not to have to keep paying.”

Excellent historical fiction. Felt like fine linen, rather than a fully realized tapestry. Got the facts straight, though it lacks the richness of Ellis Peters or Bernard Cornwell. Felt too modern both vocabulary and in character development.

“Speculation is how mysteries are solved. We ask good questions, and we see if Continue reading

Book Review: The Three Kings of Cologne by Kate Sedley (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Three Kings of Cologne (Roger the Chapman #16) by Kate Sedley

(Four Stars)

“Having everything you want’s no good,” she said, “if you’ve got to give your soul in return.”

Excellent medieval mystery, along the lines of the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael. Excellent sense of time and place. Our protagonist is a humble peddler who solves crimes on the side. Leavened with self-depreciating humor.

“Women, I reflected, not for the first time, were the losers in the game of life; the thankless drudges who smoothed the paths of their men.”

Don’t start a series in the middle. Having said that, this sixteenth in the series tells the reader enough to without overloading with backstory. I could be wrong but Continue reading

Book Review: Brother Cadfael’s Penance (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #20) by Ellis Peters (Five Stars)


Book Review: Brother Cadfael’s Penance (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #20) by Ellis Peters

(Five Stars)

“We are born of the fathers we deserve, and they engender the sons they deserve. We are our own penance and theirs.”

An excellent close to the Chronicles. Pargeter ties off several threads, but leaves enough dangling to tantalize the reader, even as she probably knew she would not write further. She died the year after this volume was published.

“What would be called constant in the father would be more truly stubborn in the son.”

Many of the ensemble characters from the series are allowed their swan song; and Cadfael, sometime crusader, monastic, healer, and lately-learned father, makes one last journey of faith. Along the way, he stumbles onto Continue reading

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 Continue reading

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


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


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)


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)


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)


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