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.


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.

The Wine of Angels – Phil Rickman

e3d2a69434cb04c597262376651434f414f4141Merrily Watkins has begun her first real posting as a vicar – it’s in the small village of Lewardine, and she quickly finds herself in the middle of a neighborhood drama involving a play about a long dead vicar in the same church, who was accused of being a witch.

Add in a teenage daughter (Jane), who’s not sure about the whole My-Mother-is-a-Vicar thing, and the tension between the old families of the village and the newcomers moving in to find an idyllic country life, with a little possibility of a haunted apple orchard, and things gets interesting.

I enjoyed this book. It turns into a straightforward mystery (and I did not see the villain coming – totally should have though), but it’s got a great supernatural atmosphere to it. And while I don’t live in a small English village, I have seen enough small town Maine life to recognize how to true to form it is there. Definitely a series with potential.

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.

A Quiet Life in the Country – T. E. Kinsey

9472a03105430ec596b35356e67434f414f4141Lady Emily Hardcastle and her maid Flo are retiring to the country after an apparently interesting time traveling the world, both before and after the death of Lady Hardcastle’s husband. Naturally, there’s a murder in their new village, and they feel compelled to investigate.

I was a little let down by the women’s past. I was promised a maid who is an expert in the martial arts, and all I really got was hints about things the women had done in China and India. If that’s going to be blurbed, I expect a little more. (Granted, this appears to be the first book in a series, so there is time for that later.)

That aside, this was an enjoyable book. I see it compared to Wodehouse and Heyer – I’d say Heyer is better, but this book shows promise. I’ll definitely consider reading more in the series.

In the Woods – Tana French

7e9d9a202367cc1592b78445541434f414f4141Adam Ryan was twelve when he and two friends disappeared in the woods in a housing development outside of Dublin. He was found a day later with several gashes, and someone else’s blood on him. He also had no memories of anything before that day. In the aftermath, his family moved away, and he was sent to boarding school in England. Eventually, he came back to Ireland, but with an English accent, and going by his middle name. He became a detective on the Murder Squad – a job he wanted for a long time.

And so we come to this story, where a girl is murdered on the outskirts of the same woods where his two friends were lost. And even though he knows he should probably be off the case, he and his partner Cassie become the principle investigators.

In reading the reviews before deciding if I wanted to read this book, a fair number of people hate the ending. And I can understand why you would, if you were expecting this to be a straight murder mystery. And while the murder is solved, that’s not really what this story is about. It’s really about how much Ryan’s loss his screwed with his head, and how that will ultimately play out in his relationships. That’s where the ending comes from. And it’s pretty terrible, from the standpoint of the story. Not at all what I was expecting, from the setup of the story, but I found it rather satisfying, in a very perverse way. But I can totally see why some would hate it.

Jane and the Man of the Cloth – Stephanie Barron

99e353bc7b934ce59396d6e5a77434f414f4141This is the second of Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries, and we find Jane, her parents, and sister Cassandra off to take the sea air for the month of September in Lyme, which is where her novel Persuasion is partially set. On the way, a storm overturns their carriage, injuring Cassandra, and forcing them to take refuge at a nearby manor, where Jane meets the darkly forbidding Geoffrey Sidmouth.

This is meant to be a sort of love story, and Sidmouth is probably a sort of proto-Darcy (the conceit of these books is that they’re a lost trove of Austen’s letters, so they’re meant to inform how she came up with ideas for her books.) There’s also smuggling, and interesting society asides.

It’s diverting – I’ll give it that. And in some ways, the history and setting is well thought out. In other ways (Jane going out at night just for the heck of it to see what the smugglers are doing), it’s a little far-fetched. The anachronism was a bit strong at times. Still, it was a diverting read.