To the east? Well, a matter of some miles from the Shrewsbury monastery where Brothers Cadfael and Haluin live, to the environs of Lichfield, where Haluin`s sincere journey of penitence and expiation takes on an unexpectedly darker hue, and where love and death mingle in the winter snow.
This has been my first Cadfael book (though the fifteenth in the series) and I never for a moment imagined I would enjoy it as much as I did. For one thing, I had seen several blurbs on the author`s other books in the series which damned Ellis Peters with faint praise by calling her `cosy` and the like. That is misleading. No, she isn`t as dour and dark as Mankell or Indridason, or as bloody as Christie, but she is as good a writer, if not better, than many more high-profile, more hyped ones. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by how seamlessly she weaves her words to tell this ultimately moving, bittersweet tale, her prose having a rhythm and poise to it that eludes many a more fashionable contemporary writer (in any genre).
There are times when certain plot points are repeated rather unnecessarily, and the suspense doesn`t kick in until at least halfway through the book, but the lead-up is so beguilingly crafted, and the author`s feeling for the changing seasons and the bare, sparsely-populated landscape so delightful, that these are minor quibbles.
I have recently acquired a copy of the first novel in this long sequence of books - a boon to a lover of all things medieval, as I am - and can`t wait to `begin at the beginning`. However, this deceptively gentle entry in the series wasn`t such a bad place to start.
Ellis Peters was a fine historical novelist, whose Cadfael books just happen to concern themselves with crime. They are also wise and psychologically penetrating, at least if this one is anything to go by.
An underrated writer I am very happy to have discovered.