ELLIS PETERS – Brother Cadfael’s Penance. Brother Cadfael #20. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1994; paperback, 1996.

   Does this series need any introduction? If not the first, it’s certainly the best known of the the histo-mysteries, and its fans are legion.

   King Stephen and Queen Maud (as each would have it for themselves but not the other) are still quarreling bloodily over who is to rule England in 1146 AD. As a byproduct of one of the frequent pieces of treachery involved in the conflict, a young man in Maud’s service is handed over to the enemy, and no one seems to know who has him, or to what end.

   Longtime readers of the series will recognize him immediately; others will have to wait for the text to explain why Brother Cadfael feels compelled to go in search for him, along with his friend Sheriff Hugh Berenger. The first step is to attend a gathering at Coventry to bring the two factions to peace, but peace isn’t what Brother Cadfael finds there.

   Given my predilection for historical mysteries, British fiction, and the Middle Ages, it’s no surprise that I liked this a great deal. Cadfael is an enduring and endearing character, and Peters writes a brand of cadenced prose that goes down very easily. The historical background is authentic and worked seamlessly into the text; indeed is an integral part of it.

   I don’t find anything to dislike in the Cadfael books. As with any series there are similarities from book to book, but somehow Peters to mu eye has avoided any hint of staleness in the 20 books so far. Fine stuff.


— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #16, November 1994.