30 July 2009

Mystery review: One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters

I used to faithfully watch the television adaptations of the brother Cadfael books (starring Derek Jacobi as Cadfael) but I remember very little of them, except that I loved the medieval setting of the series. I have been patiently assembling the book series for reading ever since I joined BookMooch, as I want to read them all and would prefer to read them in order of publication. Now I have nearly the whole set and am ready to start. I read the first book, A Morbid Taste for Bones several years ago, and didn’t review it, but I may revisit it and post a review.

Genre: Historical mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur
Year of publication: 1979
No. in series: 2
Series detective: Brother Cadfael, a Benedictine monk
Setting & time: Shrewsbury, England, 1138

Story:
At the end of the siege of Shrewsbury (a real historical event) by King Stephen (a real person), pretender to the English throne, the whole of the defending garrison, 94 men in all, are executed as an example to Stephen’s other enemies. However, Brother Cadfael, who has been given the task of redying the bodies for Christian burial, discovers an extra corpse. The young man had been murdered and his body hidden among the executed. King Stephen gives orders for the killer to be found and brought to justice and the task falls to Cadfael, who is, at the same time, involved in a potentially dangerous game of cat and mouse with an ambitious young man who has just pledged his allegiance to Stephen and is searching for the young woman betrothed to him. She is in in hiding, being the daughter of one of the men opposing Stephen and a valuable hostage if caught. With shrewdness born of wide-ranging experiences before he became a monk, Cadfael plans and plots and investigates, and succeeds, with the help of an unexpected ally, in carrying out his plans and finding the killer.

Review and rating:
Ellis Peters had a style that was flowing and readable, and in the Brother Cadfael books she has added historical detail that suggests research at least as exhaustive as that of Georgette Heyer in her historical novels. Combining this easy writing style with an interesting lead character, thriller elements, an eventful plot and a double romance, this makes for a nice mixture that I breezed through in less than 2 hours. Unfortunately, I couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for the mystery itself, which, in spite of all the investigating, pondering and theorising, turned out to be rather flat. 2+ stars.

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