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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cadfael, medieval detective

A Morbid Taste for Bones is the first novel about Brother Cadfael, a 12th century monk who solves murders. The series, or at least part of it, was made into episodes of Mystery for PBS, a number of years ago, and I probably saw one or two episodes. I had never read one of the books, which are by Ellis Peters (who is a woman) until recently, when Julana recommended the series to me.

I enjoyed the book. It is fairly short, less than 200 pages. Somewhat to my surprise, it included a couple of romances. (Cadfael wasn't involved in either of them, although he has a history outside the monastery that includes some romances. He came to his vocation rather late in life.) Cadfael's thought doesn't seem particularly different from 20th, or 21st century thoughts. I would have supposed that there would be a difference. I was especially interested in Cadfael's view of spiritual matters. He believes in God's power, but has, shall we say, a somewhat cynical view of some of the monastery's hierarchy:

There was no knowing, Prior Robert being the man he was, at what stage his awareness of the use to be made of this marvel thrust his genuine faith and wonder and emotion into the back of his mind, and set him manipulating events to get the utmost glory out of them. There was no inconsistency in such behaviour. He was quite certain that Brother Columbanus had been taken up living out of this world, just as he had wished. But that being so, it was not only his opportunity, but his duty, to make the utmost use of the exemplary favour to glorify the abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul of Shrewsbury, and not only his duty, but his pleasure, to make use of the same to shed a halo round the head of Prior Robert, who had originated this quest. And so he did. Ellis Peters, A Morbid Taste for Bones. New York: William Morrow, 1978. p. 181.

I shan't give away the plot, but let us say that some miracles occur at the end. Here's Cadfael's take on miracles:
I do believe I begin to grasp the nature of miracles! For would it be a miracle, if there was any reason for it? Miracles have nothing to do with reason. Miracles contradict reason, overturn reason, make game of reason, they strike clean across mere human deserts, and deliver and save where they will. If they made sense, they would not be miracles. Ellis Peters, A Morbid Taste for Bones. New York: William Morrow, 1978. pp. 185-6.

* * * * *

Too Many Corpses is the second book in the series. Cadfael continues to be probably the only Welsh monk at Shrewsbury, and continues to be in charge of the herb garden. As in the first book, he has lost his garden help by the end of the book. (I suspect that this is going to be a recurring feature -- we are introduced to some novice, or lay person, who is supposed to help Cadfael, and, by the end, they have fallen in love, or murdered someone, or something like that. I'll see.)

In this book, there is strife over the monarchy. One side comes to Shrewsbury, and puts a lot of the other side to death, but someone puts another corpse, killed in another way, into the ditch with the other bodies. Cadfael eventually solves the crime. Again, some young people fall in love, and will be married soon after the book ends. In this book, Cadfael's concern for the souls of the departed is evident.

I believe that there are 18 more books in this series. I intend to read some more of it,provided the Pickens County, SC, library has some, as the San Diego County library did (We'll be leaving here soon, God willing). The books are relatively short, Cadfael is an appealing, and interesting, main character, and the good guys seemingly win.

Thanks, Julana!


Julana said...

You're welcome! Sparrow of Intent told me about Amanda Witt, and I think Diane from Circle of Quiet, recommending them.
I agree, they are probably a little bit modern in their perspective, but I always feel like I've had a visit to a quieter time after reading them. And the characters and plots and setting were interesting.
Barbara at Being Barbara doesn't live that far from some of those old ruins. Peters' proximity to them helped her bring that time somewhat to life.

I have to say, one of those miracles at the end of Morbid Taste was one of the funniest things I'd read in a long time. :-)

Jay C said...

I just wanted to thank you Dr. LaBar for your continued visits to my blog, your input, and your prayers... they are all greatly appreciated! :)

Mufana said...

Randy and Marth Sue Bowyer have the whole video series of these mysteries at their cabin in Cashiers, NC. I was going to watch one of them, but I decided to finish the book that I was reading at the time.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments.