Friday, August 13, 2010

Dead Man's Ransom by Ellis Peters

Do ever just want to read something you know is going to be good? That might mean rereading something that you loved, or reading something by an author you know is consistently good. Maybe you've read a few not that great books in a row and need a break, or just want to go with the familiar. I had one of those moments when I looked at what my next ARC was (I read them in order of the month they come out so I can stay on top of things), and saw the next two looked to be supernatural romances. I needed a break. There was only one thing to do: Brother Cadfael.

The Brother Cadfael mysteries are by Ellis Peters (a women, real name Edith Pargeter), and there are 20 of them. And they are fabulous. I'm not a huge mystery fan, I like Agatha Christie, especially the Miss. Marple ones, less so the Poirot ones, and I enjoyed most of the Rabbi Small series by Harry Kemelman (Friday the Rabbi Slept Late and so on) until about Wednesday when things started to get a bit repetitive.

The Cadfael mysteries are fabulous for several reasons. First of they are incredibly well written. Cadfael is a Welsh Benediction monk living in the Middle Ages, starting in 1135. The back drop of the books is the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud. The description of the time period is so real and gritty, while never overshadowing the story, it's just there. I have learned a good deal about the Middle Ages from these books. I had no idea there ever was a civil war during this time. So they're really interesting. Cadfael is a fascinating character. He didn't become a monk until his 50s, having fought in the Crusades and lived quite a life before deciding to become a monk. Because of this, he is a good judge of human nature. The mysteries are always thrilling and intricate, although I am getting better at guessing who did it (it isn't always a murder, although it often is).

Dead Man's Ransom is the ninth mystery in the series. I would suggest reading them in order, although the mysteries themselves are self contained, the storyline does build on itself each book. Gilbert Prestcote, the sheriff of Shrewsbury has been taken captive after a battle between King Stephen's men and Welsh supporters of Empress Maud. Huge Beringar (who I love), the deputy, is temporarily taking his place and trying to get him back. A young Welsh prisoner named Elis ap Cynan comes into Huge's hands, and Huge arranges a prisoner exchange. Prestcote is badly wounded, but is resting peacefully in the Abby infirmary. When next he's checked on, he's dead. Who could have killed him? The likely suspect is Elis ap Cynan, who has fallen in love with Prestcote's daughter, and knows of Prestcote's hatred of the Welsh. He would have never allowed them to marry. Would Elis really kill the girl he loves father? Cadfael has his doubts.

If you are a fan of mystery, historical fiction, books that take place in the Middle Ages, a really well thought out story, whatever. You should read these books.

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