Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

"In the remote Welsh mountain village of Gwytherin lies the grave of Saint Winifred. Now, in 1137, the ambitious head of Shrewsbury Abbey has decided to acquire the sacred remains for his Benedictine order. Native Welshman Brother Cadfael is sent on the expedition to translate and finds the rustic villagers of Gwytherin passionately divided by the Benedictine's offer for the saint's relics. Canny, wise, and all too worldy, he isn't surprised when this taste for bones leads to bloody murder.

The leading opponent to moving the grave has been shot dead with a mysterious arrow, and some say Winifred herself held the bow. Brother Cadfael knows a carnal hand did the killing. But he doesn't know that his plan to unearth a murderer may dig up a case of love and justice...where the wages of sin may be scandal or Cadfael's own ruin."
(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

I first became acquainted with Ellis Peters and her mystery series when I read her historical fiction work, The Heaven Tree Trilogy. Ellis Peters is a pen name for Edith Pargeter, an author that has been receiving much attention on the historical fiction blogs lately due to Sourcebook's upcoming release of the Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet. I also am participating in A Tournament of Reading Challenge hosted by Medieval Bookworm, so I thought this would be a good time to give the series a try.

At only 197 pages, this cozy mystery is perfect for a quick read, but while it is short, it's rich in period details of monastic life and 12th century life, with a tight, clever plot.

Brother Cadfael is at the heart of this introductory medieval mystery, a very likeable, prosaic Benedictine monk who is skilled in the art of herbal medicine. He has come to the monastic way of life later than most after experiencing battles as a soldier in the Crusades, time spent as a sea captain, and a few well-enjoyed dalliances with women. These life experiences have given Brother Cadfael a peace about his religious way of life, as well as a realistic understanding of human nature and matters of the heart.

When the head of the Shrewsbury Abbey decides that it would be beneficial for the Order to obtain the sacred remains of a martyred saint buried in the Welsh village of Gwytherin, Cadfael is dispatched along with five other brothers to bring the sacred remains back in a reliquary. The monks were not prepared for the strong opposition from the residents of the village, and unfortunately find themselves suspects when a very vocal opponent is found murdered.

Using his skills from the battlefield and intuition, Brother Cadfael is drawn into the mystery surrounding the murder and must use his medical skills and powers of observation to understand the motive for the killing, the true cause of death, and find the murderer... a medieval CSI, if you will. A subplot of lovers kept apart by the social mores of the day adds a little romance to the mystery. A bit of a slow start and some minors characters were hard to keep straight since they were not adequately fleshed out, but an exciting, page-turning ending with a touch of wry humor and poetic justice gave it a strong finish.

For a complete list of all the Brother Cadfael mysteries, click here.

3/5 stars

Title: A Morbid Taste for Bones
Author: Ellis Peters
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
197 pages
genre: medieval mystery

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