Mystery review: Monk’s Hood by Ellis Peters

Genre: Historical mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur
Year of publication: 1980
No. in series: 3
Series detective: Brother Cadfael, a Benedictine monk
Setting & time: Shrewsbury, England, 1138

A man who has pledged his estate to the monastery is murdered by slipping some massage oil made with monkshood (aconite, a deadly poison) into his food. Brother Cadfael, who made the oil to be used as a topical relief for rheumatism, is deeply offeneded. On top of that, the dead man’s wife turns out to be someone he loved very much as young man and had planned to marry. When suspicion falls on her teenage son who had been his stepfather’s intended heir before they had a falling out, she begs Cadfael to help the boy. He begins an investigation that is somewhat hampered by the Prior who is in charge of the monastery while the abbot is away and doesn’t approve of what he sees as Cadfael’s worldly ways, and also by the absence of deputy sheriff Hugh Beringar, who, unlike his superior, is unlikely to arrest someone just because they seem to be the likeliest suspect.

Review and rating:
This is the third outing in the Cadfael series, and like One Copse Too Many, which I reviewed yesterday, it is a mixture of thriller, mystery and romance, has an eventful and twisting plot, and is well written. While the previous book is pretty much a straightforward whodunnit and procedural that turns on finding out who the murdered man was, why he was murdered and who, out of a large group of possible suspects, did it, this one is more of a puzzle plot. The group of suspects is small, and the solution is arrived at by a very careful piecing together of clues and facts from various sources. Like so often with mysteries with a small cast of suspects, the solution lies in finding out who had the strongest motive for the killing, and then finding out how they did it. And while I did figure out both before the omniscient narrator gives on that Cadfael has done so, I still consider this a better mystery than One Corpse….

In addition, it has some really wonderful descriptions of the landscape on the Welsh-English border, and a funny side-story about monastery politics. I therefore give it a solid 3 stars.


Dorte H said…
I was tempted by Ellis Peters when I saw some of them in our cottage this summer, but I am not too keen on stories which take place that far back. Stupid, perhaps, but I think it is difficult to judge whether they are realistic or not.
Bibliophile said…
Dorte, if you want to try Ellis Peters, she also wrote modern mysteries, starring detective Felse and family, and she also wrote some one-off mysteries. I especially liked Never Pick Up Hitch-Hikers!, which is not only a good mystery, but also quite funny.
Dorte H said…
Yes, I know. I own one called Black is the Colour of My True Love´s Heart. Good and entertaining mystery.

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