Sunday, April 3, 2022

Ellis Peters: Monk's Hood

From a summary at Goodreads:

Christmas 1138. Gervase Bonel is a guest of Shrewsbury Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul when he suddenly takes ill. Luckily, the abbey boasts the services of the clever and kindly Brother Cadfael, a skilled herbalist. Cadfael hurries to the man’s bedside, only to be confronted with two surprises: In Master Bonel’s wife, the good monk recognizes Richildis, whom he loved before he took his vows—and Master Bonel has been fatally poisoned by monk’s-hood oil from Cadfael’s stores.

The sheriff is convinced that the murderer is Richildis’s son, Edwin, who hated his stepfather. But Cadfael, guided in part by his concern for a woman to whom he was once betrothed, is certain of her son’s innocence. Using his knowledge of both herbs and the human heart, Cadfael deciphers a deadly recipe for murder.

Monk's Hood is the third book in the Brother Cadfael series, consisting of 20 books. I am enamored of this series and both this book and the previous book (One Corpse Too Many) were fantastic reads. 

Sometimes it is daunting to start a new series when it has a large number of books , but in this case I am excited. The books are a good length, easy to read and keep me turning the pages. Plus it is the first time I have read about this period of time. This one is set in 1138 and that time in history is totally new to me.

One of the reasons I think this series is so successful is the character of Brother Cadfael. He is very believable as an amateur sleuth; not only is he intelligent and clever, but he is able to work well with people, those in his order and the people of the town. He entered the cloister later in life, after being a soldier and a sailor. He is a herbalist and cares for the garden.  

I also love reading about details of life at that time and about the religious community and the politics within that group. A good portion of this book is set in Wales, and I am beginning to get a better picture of the geography of that part of Great Britain. The differences in the legal systems of England and Wales were very interesting and were important to this story and the solution of the crime.

In the editions I have read so far, each book begins with a map of the area. In this case the map shows details of the Shrewsbury Abbey and parts of the town of Shrewsbury, including the location the house that Master Bonel and his household are living in. 

Rick Robinson of Tip the Wink recently sent me a copy of The Cadfael Companion, a reference book about the series. It is very cool, has lots of information about important persons of the time, locations, historical background, characters in the books, and I am learning a lot. It also has various maps of the area – I love maps. 

I will end with a quote from the beginning of the book:

  On this particular morning at the beginning of December, in the year 1138, Brother Cadfael came to chapter in tranquillity of mind, prepared to be tolerant even towards the dull, pedestrian reading of Brother Francis, and long-winded legal haverings of Brother Benedict the sacristan. Men were variable, fallible, and to be humoured. And the year, so stormy in its earlier months, convulsed with siege and slaughter and disruptions, bade fair to end in calm and comparative plenty. The tide of civil war between King Stephen and the partisans of the Empress Maud had receded into the south-western borders, leaving Shrewsbury to recover cautiously from having backed the weaker side and paid a bloody price for it. And for all the hindrances to good husbandry, after a splendid summer the harvest had been successfully gathered in, the barns were full, the mills were busy, sheep and cattle thrived on pastures still green and lush, and the weather continued surprisingly mild, with only a hint of frost in the early mornings. No one was wilting with cold yet, no one yet was going hungry. It could not last much longer, but every day counted as blessing.


Publisher:   Fawcett Crest, 1987 (first published 1980)
Length:       222 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Brother Cadfael #3
Setting:      UK, Shrewsbury, Wales
Genre:       Historical Mystery
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, 2006.


Cath said...

This is such a good series. About 25 years ago I read all of them and am slowly rereading them along with watching the TV series with Derek Jacobi which really good. I haven't read any for a while so I must get back to them.

Rick Robinson said...

Yes, a wonderful series, I'm very glad you're continuing it. I read several of the books prior to seeing the TV series Cath mentions, and Jacobi just didn't work for me, as my mental picture is different. Your reading of these may move me to reread some of my favorites. The ones I have are from a different printing, with black covers.

TracyK said...

Cath, I do plan to try the TV series sometime, but I want to make sure I watch an episode that I have already read, so that none of the books will be spoiled for me. The ending of the last two totally surprised me.

TracyK said...

Rick, I am glad that I finally started the series, I had had copies of the first three books for years. Last year at the book sale I got a good number to add to my stack. I only have a couple of the books with the black covers and I like those better than the other ones I have. I don't know if I will like the series or not but I will give it a shot.

Thanks so much for sending The Cadfael Companion, I found it a great help when reading this book and there is so much interesting information there.

Bill Selnes said...

TracyK: I loved Brother Cadfael in print and on television. I thought Jacobi was perfect casting. In some ways it is a contradiction but Cadfael was both humble and possessing a healthy ego. Maybe it is better expressed that he was a man of principle with a curious mind. Not many sleuths fare equally well in book and T.V. Maybe it is time to go back to the good Brother.

TracyK said...

Bill, I like that Brother Cadfael is always willing to help people and also willing to risk putting himself in a bad situation to do that. Truly a selfless person, and it helps that he is so smart. It is good to hear that so many people enjoy this series.

pattinase (abbott) said...

This has moved me to try one. I don't read much historical fiction but the mystery angle makes it attractive.

TracyK said...

I hope you do try one, Patti. The mysteries are well done, I think.

Lark said...

It's not a time period I'm very familiar with either. I'm glad to know this mystery series is so readable! :)

TracyK said...

Lark, Until recently my historical fiction reading did not go further back than World War I and mostly I read World War II and Cold War fiction if not reading about contemporary times. I have read one other book I know of set in the 1100s, The Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin, about a female doctor. And I read the Wolf Hall trilogy but that is several centuries later, set in the 1500s. I am enjoying learning more about medieval times and I also want to read more about Queen Elizabeth I.

FictionFan said...

I used to love this series, though I haven't read all of them. I keep meaning to revisit it, and you've made me want to pick one up straight away! Glad you're enjoying them so much. Did you ever see the TV adaptations with Derek Jacobi as Cadfael? They're very good, and he's brilliant in the role.

TracyK said...

Fiction Fan, I do plan to watch the series. I would like to read a few more of the books before I do that because I don't like to risk spoilers for books I have not read. I don't know why I never watched them before.

bookertalk said...

I've watched the whole of the series and have visited Shrewsbury where the abbey is located. But I've not read any of the books! One day I'll get around to it ....

TracyK said...

BookerTalk, I would love to visit Shrewsbury but that isn't likely to happen. I don't like to fly at all. But I will watch at least some episodes of the TV series sometime soon.