An Excellent Mystery

Style: Good

Attitude: Take Care

This review was contributed by Chris D

Author: Ellis Peters

Series: Brother Cadfael

Age Range: Young Teens+

Period: 13th C

Genres:  DetectiveHistorical


With the siege of Winchester and the destruction of its Benedictine monastery, an eldery monk (dying from wounds inflicted on the crusades) together with a young, mute but devoted companion-monk, arrive at Shrewsbury seeking refuge. As the reader learns more of the crusader, his companion remains a mystery - reticent to keep company beyond that of his master and a young Shrewsbury monk who befriends him.The eponymous mystery revolves around the search for the girl betrothed to the crusader before he took the cowl. She had resolved to become a Benedictine nun, but never arrived at her chosen convent and had not been seen for three years.


In two respects the story is far from edifying, though there is clearly (I feel) no attempt to include these as a slur against monasticism (which would be totally out of character with the author's other works). Firstly it transpires that the mute monk is none other than the betrothed girl disguised (even to her “master”). Although the deception is conceived as an act of selfless and pure devotion on the part of the girl, the manner in which it is covered up by Hugh Beringar (sheriff) and Brother Cadfael is straightforwardly immoral. Secondly she is “found out” by a monk who is in the throes of a personal crisis. he appears to have entrered the monastery in desperation at having been jilted and is continually assaulted by temptations of the flesh. Such is his state that he makes advances both to the mute and to his new-found friend, Brother Rhun. However sordid these circumstances may sound, there is the attempt, I feel, to treat them sensitively - there is nothing gratuitous or indelicate. The second is clearly treated as sinful.There is one highly objectionable passage in which one monk convinces another not to confess (in fact he was labouring under a misapprehension of him own guilt) but the principal reason given is that the secrecy of the confessional cannot be relied upon.

Tuesday 1st January 2002