ELLIS PETERS – City of Gold and Shadows. Macmillan, UK, hardcover, 1973. William Morrow, US, hardcover, 1974. Pyramid V3590, paperback, February 1975.

   If she is remembered today, and I think she is, Ellis Peters is known almost solely for her series of Brother Cadfael mysteries, of which there were 20. running from 1977 to 1994. But she also had another series before Cadfael came along — he was a monk living in a 12th-century Benedictine monastery — that being a series of contemporary detective novels about the Felse family.

   This earlier series, in which the head of family, George Felse, was a British police detective, ran from 1951 to 1979 and overlapped the Cadfael books by one. (I believe that the first Cadfael novel was meant to be a one-off, but it proved to be so popular that Peters was forced to continue them until her death in 1995 at the age of 82.)

   I was going to start off this review by saying something witty about the fact that when City of Gold and Shadows was reprinted by Pyramid, they amusingly tried to cash in on the then current Gothics craze in paperback publishing and marketing as a Gothic romance. It is in fact so labeled on the spine.

   But the cover of British hardcover, also shown here (below), is even more in the Gothic mode, so there goes that opening.

   It is a fact, however, that the book certainly does start out as the Gothics of the era often did. A girl (in this case a concert oboist named Charlotte Rossignol) is invited to meet with a lawyer who informs her that her great-uncle, a famed archaeologist, has been missing for over a year, and that she is in essence the inheritor of his estate — or that she will be if for some reason he never shows up.

   A standard opening for a Gothic romance. You might think that she would then go to her uncle’s estate, a mouldering mansion filled with servants with inscrutable motives and a young man who …

   But no. Charlotte is the kind of woman with a head on her shoulders, and she decides to do some detective work on her own. She heads for the grounds of Aurae Phiala, where the ruins of an ancient Roman town are buried, somewhere along the border with Wales, and although his travels had taken him to Turkey afterward, it is where her uncle was last seen in England.

   She does meet a young man, but she counters his tentative advances with an even more interrogative set of questions of her own, subtly inquired, of course. There is a murder, that of an inquisitive young lad, and other attempts at murder. Serious business, this, and George Felse is called in.

   His wife remains off scene in this one, though, and his son shows up not at all. At about the one-third point this becomes a matter for the police, not one for amateurs, although even Felse recognizes the usefulness of Charlotte’s continued contributions.

   A major plus is that Ellis Peters was a very good writer, and this book is no exception. Her phrasing, eye for details and incidental authorial observations are nearly pitch perfect, and the chapters in which one of the characters tries to find his way out of the maze of tunnels and underground flues into which he has been tossed are as suspenseful as anything I’ve recently read in a book that has been marketed as a thriller.