An Excellent Mystery – Ellis Peters

dc5a85894c45fdf593255635267434f414f4141This Brother Cadfael book actually isn’t about a murder, for a change.

After Winchester was sacked as part of the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud, the brothers of the Benedictine monastery there have scattered to neighboring monasteries. Brothers Humilis and Fidelis have come to Shrewsbury, which is near where Brother Humilis was born. Before he became a brother, he was a crusader, and a wound from his time then will be the death of him, and probably soon. It’s his last wish to return to the place of his birth.

His former lieutenant, Nicholas Harnage, comes to find Humilis. It was Nicholas that had to break the word to the girl that Humilis was to marry that he was a broken man, and would be unable to wed. Nicholas has never forgotten the girl, and three years later, has come to find Humilis to ask his permission to pursue this girl, if she is not yet wed. Humilis has no objections, so Nicholas rides to her family home, which is also near Shrewsbury. And there, he uncovers a mystery, for Julian Cruce supposedly took the veil shortly after her engagement was ended, but no one at the nunnery she supposedly entered has ever heard of her.

What follows is a story all about fidelity. If you’re paying attention, it’s not long a true mystery – what the real mystery is is how everything that has happened to a number of people will be resolved, and I very much enjoyed that story.

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The Nonesuch – Georgette Heyer

b441b20a63fbb28596e564a6c51434f414f4141I must first note that the back cover blurb on the modern edition of this book is terrible – it gives away the climax of the book, and doesn’t really give you a flavor of what came before it.

Here, we have Sir Waldo Hawkridge, lately having inherited a Yorkshire estate from an eccentric cousin. Sir Waldo is known as the Nonesuch, one of the most eligible bachelors in the Ton. With his younger cousin, Lord Lindeth, he rides to Yorkshire to investigate the new estate.

There, Lord Lindeth is enamored of Tiffany Wield, the local heiress, who is also quite possibly the most spoiled girl on earth. Tiffany has a companion, Ancilla Trent, a gently reared lady just about ready to be officially over the line into spinsterhood, who’s really there to try and control Tiffany’s wilder outbursts. Sir Waldo is enamored of her.

It’s no great mystery where this story is headed. And it’s fine, except Tiffany is so over the top spoiled, I kept getting pulled out of the story. No gently bred young lady of that time period could have gotten away with that behavior for so long. It’s a little too anachronistic for my tastes.

The Pilgrim of Hate – Ellis Peters

95e514747efe615597061796a67434f414f4141Here’s a Brother Cadfael book where the murder doesn’t occur in Shrewsbury (which is probably a good thing – all those murders in one town can’t be that good for civic moral).

At the same time as the festival of the Translation of Saint Winifred to the monastery, while pilgrims are arriving, the Abbot is returning from London, where a shocking murder of a partisan of the Empress Maud has shaken both sides of the Civil War. It’s only known that the killer was a young man, and that he may have headed in the general direction of the Shrewbury.

Naturally, he does come through Shrewsbury, and Brother Cadfael helps solve the crime, but this is a also a story about Brother Cadfael. The first book of this series was when the monks went to Wales to fetch Saint Winifred, and it was Brother Cadfael who ended up leaving her in Wales, substituting another body into the casket they transported. He believes she approved of this choice, and is still watching over them, but he would like some sort of sign that he did the right thing. And into this story returns his son, who he met several books ago, and does not know that Cadfael is his father. He is able to see Olivier again, and even tell his friend Hugh that he does have a son, even though he never intends to tell Olivier. And thus ends this book – feeling very much a transitional story, but still very enjoyable.

Bath Tangle – Georgette Heyer

d2e1e9dc5d9445c597769635a67434f414f4141I’m only going to attempt a vague outline of this story, because if I tried to sketch the high level of the plots that actually culminate at the end, I’d both take too long, and end up being confusing.

Lord Spenborough was on his second wife, as his first marriage resulted only in a daughter – Lady Serena. The new Lady Spenborough is actually younger than her step-daughter, but they get along well, which is fortunate when Lord Spenborough dies, and the two of them are thrown together. Rather than spend time in the Dower House near the well meaning but irritating cousin who’s inherited the title (well, really, his wife, who’s a little too fond of her new title), they decide to take up residence in Bath.

Oh, and Serena was once engaged to the Marquis of Rotherham, a particular friend of her father’s, but called it all off once she realized they’d spend all their time arguing. So who does her father list as the guardian of her fortune? Rotherham, of course. You can obviously see where this is going, despite a whole bunch of other plot twists I am not even going to attempt to catalog. I’ve called some of Heyer’s book madcap before. This one brings new definition to the term.

Sylvester: or the Wicked Uncle – Georgette Heyer

34f4e669754e409596b66756d51434f414f4141Sylvester, the Duke of Salford, has decided he must marry, and has presented his mother with a rather exacting list of things he needs in this wife. Naturally, this flies out the window when he meets Phoebe Marlow. Pheobe’s the daughter of a dear friend of his mother’s, but she’s not necessarily high society. And to make matters worse, she’s written a novel all about the ton, and made Sylvester the villain.

So this turns into one of Heyer’s a nobleman must rescue a young woman who’s run away from home to escape some “terrible” fate, except, in this case, he’s the fate. This type of tale tends to get pretty mad cap, and this particular one probably takes the cake for mad cap – both Phoebe and Sylvester are quite capable of royally messing up a promising relationship. Throw in a trip to France, and things just get crazier.

I will say, I enjoyed this book – you can’t help but be caught up in the energy, and this runaway story works better than most.

Dead Man’s Ransom – Ellis Peters

b00luznvsw-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_The civil war between King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Maud, continues, and now the Welsh are wading in. Gilbert Prescote, the sheriff in Shrewsbury, has gone north with his men to stand against Welsh raiders who are trying to help some rebel barons, and has the misfortune of being caught by the Welsh in the action. At the same time, young Elis ap Cynan, a kinsman of Prince Owain of Gwynedd, is captured in the fuss. It seems the perfect exchange- Elis for the sheriff. While arrangements are being made, Elis is given the run of the town, and meets Gilbert’s daughter, Melicent, and falls head over heels in love.

Prescote is returned to Shrewsbury, but injured, and during his first night back, in the Abbey’s infirmary, he’s murdered. Melicent assumes it’s Elis, trying to stay with her (her father has always hated the Welsh). Brother Cadfael of course knows that’s not true, and is on the case.

This was an interesting story – I think I most enjoyed the contrast between the Welsh and English senses of honor. I really didn’t see the murderer coming – it was a very interesting twist for me. All in all, another great outing in this series.

The Reluctant Widow – Georgette Heyer

badfe6dd39c2ec859322f2b5477434f414f4141Elinor is on her way to become a governess for a wealthy woman in the country – a job she’s had to take after her father gambled away the family’s fortune. She’s met at the post coach by the house’s personal coach, and about an hour later is shown into the study of a man who thinks Elinor is the woman he’s contracted to marry his cousin. Lord Carlyon is Eustace Cheviot’s heir, but doesn’t want to inherit, and so has been desperately trying to find someone to marry his cousin.   (Seriously.   I am not making this up.)

Elinor quickly realizes the mistake, but while she and Carlyon are trying to back out of the awkward situation, word comes that Mr. Cheviot has gotten into a fight, and is on his deathbed. And somehow, Carlyon snookers both Elinor and Eustace into the marriage. Have I lost you yet?

This is definitely one of the completely anachronistic Heyer stories that you have to suspend all disbelief on, and just go with it.    Because Elinor’s absolutely a member of the Carlyon family from that moment forward (the younger brother is a hoot), and it very quickly turns into a spy story.     Believe it or not, it’s a fair amount of fun. Completely unbelievable for the time it’s set in, but fun.