One Corpse Too Many, by Ellis Peters

>> Saturday, November 14, 2009

TITLE: One Corpse Too Many
AUTHOR: Ellis Peters

COPYRIGHT: 1979
PAGES: 192
PUBLISHER: Futura

SETTING: Medieval England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: Second in the Brother Cadfael series

REASON FOR READING: Picked it up on a whim at the charity shop and then took it out of the TBR pile to read on my commute, mainly because it's a thin, light book and it wouldn't weigh me down.

When Shrewsbury Castle falls during a war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud, Brother Caedfael makes another grim discovery--a strangled corpse lying among the dead--and vows to find the murderer.
It is 1138 and the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud is going strong. Shrewsbury castle is under siege, and as the action starts, Stephen's forces finally manage to breach its defenses. Faced with the escape of the noblemen in charge and having been accused of being too lenient, Stephen orders that the 94 men captured from the castle's garrison be executed.

Close to Shrewsbury castle lies the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul, which houses our crusader turned Benedictine monk turned detective, Brother Cadfael. Being well accustomed to gruesome sights from his years of war, it falls to him to arrange the proper burial of the executed soldiers. But when Brother Cadfael actually counts them, he finds 95 corpses, one too many and who has clearly not died as the rest.

A firm believer that every single life is important, Brother Cadfael is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

I've been meaning to try this series forever, and I really liked this first try. It's not exactly a page turner (although I did miss my station one day when I was absorbed in it on the train), but it's a good mystery, with an engaging protagonist, interesting characters and plenty of medieval flavour.

I especially liked Brother Cadfael. Stuck in the middle of the war and having to deal with opposing sides, it's clear he doesn't care much about backing one or the other, but cares a great deal about the people caught up in the conflict. He's a very non-judgmental man, tolerant to other people's foibles, although intolerant of cruelty and treachery. He's clearly had a colourful past (there's only brief references to it here, so I think I'll have to read the first book to find out more), and is now happy in the peace the Abbey provides, although this hasn't caused him to withdraw from the outside world and the people living there.

There are interesting secondary characters (including two I believe show up again in later books) and there is even a slight romance here, between a girl who's taken refuge in the abbey disguised as a young boy (her father was on the losing side) and who's been taken under Brother Cadfael's wing, and a young man, and this was the only bit that didn't fully satisfy. As in many mysteries, it's a nice romance but underdeveloped. Funny how some non-romance writers will devote a lot of time and space to all sorts of feelings, but when it comes to love, they feel that telling us that they met and fell in love is enough. It's as if they think falling in love is not important and worth exploring. *sigh* Not that this particular book was especially bad in this regard, it just got me thinking.

The mystery is interesting enough, but I get the feeling that the author, as her protagonist, is more interested in the characters involved than in the plotty bits. And that was absolutely fine by me!

MY GRADE: A B.

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