I was first introduced to Brother Cadfael some years ago by the excellent Sir Derek Jacobi in the ITV series, but these are the first Cadfael books I have read, and I was not disappointed. This omnibus edition contains the first three Cadfael mysteries, so presents excellent value for money as well as being a good read. Briefly, Cadfael, originally from Gwynedd, is the herbalist in a Shrewsbury monastery, having taken the cowl after an adventurous life as a crusader and sea captain. The books are set during the civil wars between King Stephen and the Empress Maud (or Matilda). Real historical events are used to effect in the second story here, One Corpse Too Many, which uses the hanging of the Shrewsbury Castle garrison, a real event, to introduce an extra corpse and a mystery for Cadfael. I enjoyed the mystery aspect of the stories, especially in the third story, Monk's Hood, where a passing knowledge of Welsh Medieval law gained from reading Sharon Penman put me on to the killer, but the mystery or crime itself is not the be all and end all in these books as there is so much more in the characterisation and the historical backdrop to enjoy. I look forward to improving my acquaintance with Brother Cadfael!
Like others, I first knew Cadfael from the TV series, which I thought was tremendous & Derek Jacobi perfect as the main character. But I have only recently got into the books, starting with this omnibus. The series was pretty faithful to the books, although of course it makes some adaptations to the storylines and outcomes, so I can't comment on how surprising the stories are in the books, because after watching the TV series, I had a fair idea of what was going to happen. But that in no way detracted from reading the books, because there are some differences and they were exciting to uncover.
However, Ellis Peters' (Edith Pargeter's) writing is utterly superb. I stand in awe at the beauty of it. She says so much in the most concise and perfectly descriptive way - there isn't a unnecessary word anywhere. All the characters are wonderfuly drawn & well rounded. The period is captured excellently. There's a wonderful ironic sense of humour that runs through the stories. The stories are tightly plotted, with enough twists and turns to keep you interested & even if you can sometimes spot what's coming, you enjoy the journey so much, you keep going. There's nothing gory, gratuitous or offensive, just wonderful writing and storytelling, spiced with interesting murder mysteries and decorated with a fair few romances along the way.
Pargeter's writing is full of the most wonderful & inventive descriptions, from people to places to time period, that are so emotive & evocative, the books a joy to read from start to finish. As a budding writer myself, I sometimes write stories that I think are pretty good. Then I read someone like Ellis Peters & realise how far I have to go to learn this writing craft - it makes me feel like a child holding up their crayon picture to Michael Angelo!
If you needed only one reason to read these books - they are a masterclass in quality writing.
Living in Singapore for several months of the year I rarely get to watch the TV Cadfael, but what I saw intrigued me so I bought the first omnibus. It's Agatha Christie meets Time Team! But better. If you like whodunnits and have a pass for the National Trust (or not) then you'll love Cadfael. Much better than the TV, though it does help to have watched a few episodes to get the feel of the places. I particularly like the detail of monastic life, warts and all. I will certainly look at old ruins in a different light. Peter Ellis uses a lot of detail when describing natural remedies, all interesting stuff. Looking forward to getting the full collection.
Ellis Peters' writing is impeccable. She evokes a magical historical period when men and women were honourable and brave, and believed in justice and truth. A far cry from today's reality. The "who-dunnit" element of her books is really secondary to the rich tapestry of description and dialogue which she weaves as she tells her tale. Stellar.
As with many books or stories that we get involve with, the characters and their relationships to others in the environment is an important as the mystery. Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) strikes a balance between the characters, history and the mystery. Sprinkled throughout is faith, and a chance that they (the monks) may be correct in the explanation of saints and how the world works.
The external environment is the ongoing 11th century civil war between English King Stephen and his sister the Empress Maude. We also have references to the different societies as they travel to Wales. These become more relevant as the series progresses.
The inward struggle between faith and power is depicted as an individual monk is persuaded or wants to be persuaded to go on a mission to retrieve a neglected saint "St. Winifred." She lies in Wales and it happens that Brother Cadfael has a Welsh background, so he is charged with supporting the mission.
If you saw the movie you will immediately see the differences between it and he book. One main point is the fact that the monk was cured before the trip. The best difference is reviled with the detection and solution to the mystery.
My old paperbacks are starting to fall apart through too many readings, so got the set of these, as I cannot get them for my kindle. Still good to read, but are all the hardback stock, so a bit heavy to hold while reading in bed!