Set in the year 1141, civil war runs amok in Britain between King Stephen and the Empress Maud, and it appears that the end of the twelve year old struggle is in sight. The war has taken its toll in many areas, as civil wars do, and the people are quite weary of it all. Maud's forces, however, now have captured the king himself.
The sheriff of Shropshire, too, has been taken captive. This means, in those days, that in all likelihood an exchange of prisoners will take place.
Alas, one of the captives is now dead and it is our Brother Cadfael who senses that, indeed, it is murder, and, just as naturally as Peters would have it, it is he who is given the responsibility to solve the case and to try to bring about the release of the king.
Brother Cadfael is the former crusader now a Benedictine monk, who specializes in herbal medicines, solving murders, and compassion. Peters (Edith Pargeter) has developed her Cadfael through this series of medieval whodunits into a man of the cloth easily admired and respected. He is a man of firm, and devout, principles; a man who seems to carry the weight of the shire on his own Welch-born shoulders!
Peters has made grand the area of Shropshire, and especially the town of Shrewsbury there on the Welch borders. She has also created an exciting family of literary characters to complement Cadfael: Hugh Beringar (deputy sheriff of the shire and Cadfael's closest friend) and his wife Aline, Abbot Radulfus (the venerable patriarch of the abbey, and other members of the abbey.
It is not essential that this series be read from the start (with "A Morbid Taste for Bones"), as this book could easily be read first and it would still hold up as a book on its own; however, readers generally will want to read them in order, as the presentation of character, of historical events, of character-interaction does show development in the series' genealogy. Peters died a few years ago and apparently there are no more Cadfael episodes aside from the twenty or so published, but each of the books extant bring the reader a treasure of reading adventures.
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