Brother Cadfael is called upon to administer rites to some hanged prisoners. He is told there are 94 corpses, but his own careful count reveals 95. Once again he finds himself investigating murder.
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In this episode, Brother Cadfael and his beloved Shrewsbury have the unpleasant task of burying the bodies of 94 soldiers, killed as a result of a battle between Stephen and the Empress Maud, both trying to claim the throne of England. In this ugly civil war, we find the countryside constantly in a flux as to which side is which, as this struggle, which lasted for 12 years, seemed to change shapes and sides all too frequently. In this instance, it is Stephen who has won the day. After the hanging of the hold-outs, Brother Cadfael, representing the church and the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul in Shrewsbury, goes in to arrange for the proper burial of the dead. He is told there were exactly 94 bodies. Instead, he finds an extra one--that of a young man, unidentified, who has had his throat slashed.
And Brother Cadfael, over the course of the novel, uses all his God-given talents to solve the mystery. And solve it, of course, he does. He wants not only to identify the young man, but to name the murderer. At the same time, Peters, whose real name is Edith Pargeter, lays the foundation for two of her other recurring characters, Aline and Hugh Beringer (This is a nice romantic touch!). Cadfael, himself, is the herbalist to the abbey and uses that skill to help him solve the murder. He is also able to call upon some of the knowledge he learned during his younger days as a Crusader to the Holy Lands. In all, Peters has created a full-blown medieval character--one who is at once ever the romantic, yet is worldly enough to negotiate the foibles of reality. Peters and Cadfael add up to a great literary combination and their numbers prove it!
King Stephen is attempting to secure land and money in his fight against the Empress Maud. The current stage is Shrewsbury and a successful attack leaves few survivors of the defending garrison. King Stephen condemns them to death and upon Cadfaels arrival to bury the dead in a Christian manner, finds there is one more than was counted originally (all souls must be accounted for and prayers said for them).
The extra corpse, once found, is seen to have been murdered. Cadfael must use all his cunning and keep his eyes and ears open to solve this one.
This story concentrates more on the underlying story than the actual mystery but the guilty party doesn't become apparent until near the end making it a good and suspenseful read. Buy it!
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