Sunday, February 14, 2010

Monk's-Hood by Ellis Peters

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.

So begins Monk's-Hood. And we all know that tranquillity is not exactly what Brother Cadfael is going to come away with this time...

There are few authors who have the gift of writing characters that I am so comfortable with that I feel as though I know them personally. I feel like I could pick [my vision of] Brother Cadfael out of a crowd and approach him like an old friend, head back to his workshop and have a cup of mulled wine and a good long chat, after which I would certainly feel better about the state of humankind and the world. Of course, this might be a challenge because I am female and he is certainly not supposed to be consorting with me in any way shape or form... but a girl can have dreams. There are lots of characters out there that I like, but Cadfael is familiar.

Monk's-Hood is the third of the Brother Cadfael mysteries, and it's easily as strong as the two that came before. A man who is granting his property to the abbey in return for retirement in one of the abbey's cottages ends up dead -- poisoned with one of Cadfael's own apothecary concoctions. Naturally, Cadfael is determined to discover the murderer, and save an innocent boy from being wrongly accused. There are twists and turns and complications, and Cadfael gets himself into more personal trouble that he has yet.

It was a surprisingly fast read -- I spent most of yesterday on it, and I found myself getting up and making tea with the book still in my hand and trying to watch the boiling water out of the corner of my eye while reading with the rest of my attention. Um. Safety first?

One thing I've discovered I really like about Ellis Peters' writing is that she knows how to foreshadow. With her, it's an art. I take exception to extremely heavy foreshadowing ("forebludgeoning") and so it's a bit incredible to me that I don't mind it when she does things that make me say "aha! one of these two is the murderer, and that will be the murder weapon" and then I turn out to be right. In fact, I actually get a bit of a kick out of being right. I think it's partially that sometimes her foreshadowing leads one in the wrong direction -- which turns out to be the right direction, just not in the way that I anticipated. The tangled web is so carefully placed that everything fits perfectly, but the shape of it is only revealed very close to the end.

Another thing I'm discovering as I move (slowly) along in this series is how deeply I feel for the characters. Some, like Prior Robert and his clerk Brother Jerome, inspire such deep irritation and aversion; others, like Abbot Heribert, inspire what I almost might term gentle love. When a character we were introduced to in One Corpse Too Many finally makes an appearance in Monk's-Hood, I physically experienced a huge sigh of grateful relief. I do get emotionally involved in a lot of books I read, don't get me wrong. I get very wrapped up in my reading and can be quite unbecomingly enthusiastic about a book when I'm in the moment. But I truly don't react this viscerally to characters often, and I wonder if it's partially because of the series aspect -- the further I read, the better I know these characters -- but I know it also has to be Peters' skill.

I really recommend these books to pretty much anyone. Reading them leaves me feeling very content. St. Peter's Fair is next and I'm looking forward to it.

Earlier books in the Brother Cadfael chronicles:

1. A Morbid Taste for Bones
2. One Corpse Too Many


Bookphilia said...

I recently read the 6th or 7th in the series - I love them too! And they keep getting better. The Virgin in the Ice is my favourite so far.

And yes, Cadfael feels very familiar. I wish he were my dad or something.

Unknown said...

I'm really relieved that I don't have to worry about a decline in quality as the series goes on! It's such a long series, but I'm glad to hear they keep getting better.