This is the fourteenth novel in Ellis Peters's Cadfael series, and if you've got this far, there's not much more to say! There is the usual well-written scene-setting, and the usual well-thought-through plot. It is interesting how the crime may appear solved, but there always remains open an issue that will suddenly - and convincingly - push matters along a new twisted path.
Peters's continues her good way with words, writing clearly and persuasively, and with an eye to informing too. For instance, of the settlements of Eaton and Eyton, she says there was "barely a mile between" them: "The very names sprang from the same root, though time had prised them apart, and the Norman passion for order and formulation had fixed and ratified the differences."
There is a rare and welcome faint whiff of homosexuality in this novel, with the young lad Hyacinth arousing a "slight stir of disquiet ... in those cloistered breasts". And, "What was an antique saint doing with an unnerving fairy thing in his employ?" It is surprising how Peters's never referred more often to the temptations of the same sex that all monasteries by their very nature must have had.
No doubt a few holes can be picked in this tale, for example it is strange to say the least that the hermit should be accepted and established as such so soon after arriving in the area, but Cadfael is such an enjoyable character that we can forgive such small matters. As usual, Peters employs well the ever-tolerant Cadfael as a lightning rod for the sense of the humane. So, when Hugh the Sheriff talks of black sheep, Cadfael argues that, "There are very few all black ... Dappled, perhaps ... most of us have a few mottles about us."
As for historical matters, the author always remains on sure ground. Although one might question the actual need in canon law for a priest to officiate at a wedding at this time, Peters's insistence on the accuracy of the historical framework, in particular the latest events in the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, re-assures me that any divergence from historical fact will be slight and short-lived.