The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael Book 3
By Ellis Peters
Published by Recorded Books
Read by Patrick Tull
While this series is classified as “Murder Mystery,” I find it interesting that it seems to spend more time dealing with the normal day-to-day life of people living in Twelfth Century Wales. So the story starts out with the Abbot summoned to a Legatine Council with all the Abbey’s business suspended save for the matter of one gentleman, Gervase Bonel, who is giving his estate to the abbey in exchange for a smaller house that will meet his needs in retirement. Naturally the full exchange cannot be concluded while the abbot is away, but Bonel and his household are allowed to make their move.
Prior Robert, left in charge of the abbey, shares his dinner, including a partridge with Bonel and Bonel immediately gets sick after eating it although he prior does not. Brothers Cadfael and Edmund rush to Bonel’s aid, but are unable to save him. Cadfael, however, does recognize Bonel’s widow as a woman to whom he had been unofficially betrothed many years earlier, before going off on Crusade. To further complicate matters, it turns out that Bonel was poisoned with a liniment from Cadfael’s stores, the active ingredient of which was Monkshood or Wolfsbane.
In most mysteries, I think that would have meant a book load of Cadfael having to prove himself innocent, but in this case any suspicion about Cadfael is short-lived. Instead the suspicion falls on Bonel’s household, among whom are a plethora of likely suspects, not the least of whom is his son, who, because Bonel was killed before the agreement with the abbey was concluded, stands to inherit the estate. Cadfael, however, soon realizes that Edwyn cannot be the culprit although Edwyn still remains the main suspect so far as Sergeant Will Warden (assigned to the case by the local sheriff) is concerned.
So, since this is a Chronicle of brother Cadfael, it is up to Cadfael to find out who did commit the murder and why. However, the story develops gradually and a lot of pages sound more like normal life with the occasional intrusion of the mystery just to remind us that this is not purely historical fiction.
The story is a good one and I really did enjoy it, perhaps mostly because it does read like historical fiction, which might be because some of the characters actually are real historical persons, such as the abbot and the prior, or perhaps because the author has done her best to keep each character unique, but definitely medieval in attitude and outlook. This was a very good story and, of course, I intend to read or listen to the rest of the series.
In my review of One Corpse Too Many, I said, “Patrick Tull continues to be a perfect voice for Brother Cadfael. He reads well, with just enough of a Welsh accent to give the proper color to the story…” I then went on to mock Welsh spelling and its apparent lack of vowels. My jokes aside, I stand by what I said about Tull’s reading ability. The first two Cadfael books were not a fluke, Tull reads the stories perfectly and while other might do as well, it is hard to imagine anyone doing it better.
So, all told, an excellent story and it is read well. I suppose if you do not have the time to read, you could watch the television adaptation of the novel, but you would be missing a lot of the fun historic and personal details that only a well-written novel can provide.