I don't do that much in the way of rereading. Partly it's just not my thing but also I'm always eager to move on to explore yet another new story. But I'm having a quieter reading year this year. Less challenges mean more time to wander wherever I fancy and The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift has led me to a reread of Ellis Peters's Cadfael books, previously devoured in the late 1980s and, like The Morville Hours, based in the county of Shropshire. They're set in the 12th. century.
So, this omnibus (how is it that that word can mean a collection of books in one volume and a method of transport?) includes the first three volumes in the series and is my 2nd. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 reading challenge.
A Morbid Taste for Bones
After a life of high adventure Cadfael has settled into the Benedictine monastry in Shrewsbury looking for a quiet life of contemplation and gardening. His Prior (second in command after The Abbot) has designs on having the remains of a saint in the grounds of the abbey to increase its standing in the religious world of the 12th. century. They hear about St. Winifred who is buried in the wilds of North Wales and set out to see if they can acquire her for the monastry. When they get there the villagers, led by a local squire figure, are less than enthusiastic about parting with their saint. When the squire is found stabbed to death in the forest, Cadfael feels obliged to investigate because it's the monks who have clearly brought this trouble down upon the heads of the villagers.
One Corpse too Many
Shrewsbury is under seige by the army of King Stephen who is battling Maud (Matilda) for the throne of England. Shrewsbury being a supporter of Maud's, Stephen is there is root out the rebels. This is done in short order and 94 men are hanged from the battlements. Except that when Cadfael comes to attend to the bodies he finds there are actually 95. One of them has been garroted by persons unknown, but in a city in chaos after a seige how is he to find a murderer?
It's the middle of winter and Brother Cadfael's herbal remedies are much in demand. A dangerous one that he uses to massage into the bones of an elderly monk to ease his pain is procured and used as a poison to kill. The victim is Gervase Bonel, who has retired and decided to donate his house and farm to the monastry in return for him and his wife being looked after in abbey accommodation for the rest of their days. His stepson is immediately a suspect for the murder and goes on the run but Cadfael is certain the young boy is innocent. But if that's the case who did do it?
As I mentioned before, this is a series reread for me. I'm not excactly sure which year I first read them but feel it must have been somewhere in the early 1990s. I know I gobbled the entire twenty books up in about six months because my local library (Minehead at the time) had them all. And now I can see why I loved them so much. Everything just feels so real when you read these stories, within the first few pages of the first book Brother Cadfael feels like an old friend and in subsequent books there he is again and you're delighted! When you add such wonderful characterisation to superb writing, a glorious setting, and really excellent historical research you have a winning combination and no wonder these books are hugely popular and remain so even though some of them are now fifty years old.
In the first book I loved the very real sense and atmosphere of a village in the middle of a forest in North Wales. In the second, the air of menace at the end of a seige when the victors move into a city is palpable. The third book is more of a traditional whodunit but I loved the wintery atmosphere and the end where we find out who is going to be the new abbot of St. Peter and St. Paul in Shrewsbury... that really made me smile.
This omnibus has been such a pleasure to read this month. I have two more omnibuses, the third and the sixth for some strange reason. So I've reserved the next two single books from the library and will read those in February. Looks like I have a nice little project on my hands for the next six months or so.