Saturday, September 23, 2006

[Book Review] A MORBID TASTE FOR BONES by Ellis Peters

Fiction/Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery

Philip Williams reviews A MORBID TASTE FOR BONES by Ellis Peters (Morrow, 1977):

Brother Columbanus, a monk in the Benedictine Monastery in Shrewsbury, claims that he has had encounters with Winifred, a Welsh saint, who tells him she is unhappy with the lack of care and dedication her grave receives in the Welsh village of Gwytherin. Brother Columbanus claims that St. Winifred wants her bones to be brought to the Shrewsbury Abbey in England. Another brother, John, is very skeptical of these claims. He believes that the brother is motivated by ambition since having the relic at Shrewsbury would make both the abbey and Columbanus famous.

The Abbot believes that Columbanus has has real visions and sends an expedition of monks to Wales to retrieve the bones of St. Winifred. One of the monks is Brother Cadfael, an herbalist. Before becoming a monk later in life, Cadfael had been a soldier and a sailor and had participated in the capture of Jerusalem during the Crusades. He is part of the expedition because he is of Welsh descent and can speak the language.

In Wales, even though the monks have the approval of the Bishop and the local prince, the people of Gwytherin oppose the removal of the bones to Shrewsbury. Lord Rhysart becomes the chief spokesman for the villagers. He is outraged by an attempted bribe, but he agrees to further discussion with the monks. On the way to a meeting with the monks, Lord Rhysart is murdered. It will be Brother Cadfael, with his detective and forensic science skills, who will solve the murder. And it will be Brother Cadfael who will be instrumental in determining what will happen to St. Winifred's bones.

As the first chronicle of Brother Cadfael, this is the ideal starting point for readers who want to follow the entire series. This book would appeal to anyone who has an interest in medieval times. A reader can learn about life in a medieval abbey, as well as what life was like--the social structure and customs--in a medieval Welsh village. It is an interesting mystery, very well-written, with an intriguing plot and sub-plots, and so readers of mysteries, who never thought about reading historical fiction, could very well like this book. It is certainly not a fast read, however.

Similar authors include Sharon Kay Penman, Michael Jecks, and Sharan Newman.

Philip Williams, Whitehaven Branch Library

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