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The fifth Cadfael instalment returns to standard chapters from the previous number. The contest between Stephen and Matilda is now more distant, and ‘The Leper of St Giles’ stays within the immediate neighbourhood of the abbey and concerns itself with a local high-profile wedding. (St Giles is the leper’s chapel just up the road to the east and would be the first prominent building to be seen as the traveller approached Shrewsbury from that direction.)

Young love features highly again in the story, and I’m starting to get a little annoyed by its central prevalence in so many of the series. Peters also has a tendency too, like Dickens, to place people in boxes marked ‘good’ and ‘bad’, when we all know that every one of us is a mixture of both.

But on the plus side, Peters continues with her detailed descriptions of life and mores of the time, although I am not sure that Amice of Thornbury could be so precise about her timings in an age largely devoid of clocks, especially in rural areas.

I was going to write how Peters in ‘The Leper of St Giles’ comes up with one of her usual ingenious plots. But there is more in this volume, for at the book’s end, just when you think all seems settled and obvious, the last chapter manages to produce one last plot twist that goes on to disprove my theory about the black-and-white moral characterisation of the people her imagination creates.

How can I not praise, therefore, a writer who not only dumbfounds me with the plot but also confounds my presumptions about her characters?
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Ellis Peters' fifth Brother Cadfael mystery is set against a backdrop of one of the less savoury aspects of life in Mediaeval Europe - the scourge of leprosy and the terrible disfigurements and consequent social stigmas that its sufferers endured. In actuality, though, this is as typical a romance from the pen of Ellis Peters as it is possible to find!
The action of the story takes place just a few months after the previous Cadfael book, in the autumn of 1139. For once, the on-going civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud does not feature in the tale, which is concerned only with the impending marriage of a young, orphaned heiress to an overbearing and insufferable baron, many years her senior. It is quickly obvious that this marriage is no love-match, on either side, and has been arranged purely for the advancement of the girl's guardians and the bridegroom. It is also obvious from the outset that the would-be bride is more smitten with the squire of her affianced lord than with the baron himself and that this attraction is mutual. Most readers, too, will quickly come to dislike Huon de Domville as much as do the young lovers. Nor will anyone be surprised where suspicion (from everyone except Cadfael) falls when the bridegroom is rather conveniently found murdered on the very morn of his wedding day!
But that's about all that is clear-cut and obvious in this plot, which needs someone of Cadfael's shrewd and observant nature to tease out all of the complex pieces of the puzzle and fit them together correctly. And this is one of those classic Cadfael tales in which it is, indeed, only the good Brother (apart, of course, from the reader) who knows the whole truth of events by the end. As in the very first book, he remains quite content to leave the others with their own version of just who is guilty of what, aware that there are times when the justice of the Good Lord and that of Man might not always be in accord.
The book is written in Ellis Peters' inimitable prose style and paints her usual vivid picture of mediaeval life, both within the cloister and without. It has its humorous moments, not least of which is the testing of Cadfael's patience and faith by his keen but clumsy new acolyte, Brother Oswin. The book also provides us with new insights into some characters from earlier books, with Brother Mark mindful of a new calling amongst the sick and maimed of the lazarhouse, as well as introducing us to a new character who will be important in future books. As always, the author is to be congratulated on achieving an excellent balance between writing for readers new to the Cadfael series and for established fans working their way through the books in order. There should be much here to please those in the latter category without any risk of newcomers becoming confused.
The book does contain one of Ellis Peters' few technical mistakes, though, as she confuses the modern gardener's creeping gromwell (Lithodora diffusa) with one of its native relatives. In the times of this tale, creeping gromwell would have been quite unknown in Britain. It is, in any case, an acid loving plant and most definitely would not be found growing in the chalky ground in which Cadfael encounters it. Unfortunately, while its only blue-flowered native relative, the purple gromwell (Lithospermum purpuro-caeruleum) is indeed lime loving, that plant's flowering season is over by June and so it would not still been in bloom in October, the time of the good herbalist's investigations. This botanical mix-up need not greatly concern the reader, however. The compelling nature of Ms Peters' storytelling is sufficient to make such nit-picking details entirely unimportant.
Enjoy this book the way it was intended: as a good, solid, murder mystery and romantic novel, set in harsher times when, in many ways, life was a lot less complex than it is today.
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on 28 January 2016
I really love the Brother Cadfael novels, but for some reason this was slightly disappointing. I'm sad about that because it was one of the last two I hadn't read; only The Pilgrim of Hate left now and I have read them all...sigh. I'm not sure why but the characters were not quite as engaging as usual, probably entirely my fault because it is an earlier book in the series, the characters are a little less well-rounded, and I really missed the interactions between Cadfael and Hugh, who doesn't appear in this story. Cadfael's relationship with his Abbot is still a trifle shaky, which adds to the feeling of something missing for me, as Radulphus comes over as a rather cold and spiky character, not at all as he appears in the later novels. As I say, my fault for not reading them all in order, which I'd highly recommend if you are just beginning on the saga - start at the beginning and I'd be surprised if you don't find yourself wanting to read them all. Brother Cadfael is a wonderfully wise, canny, down-to-earth and humorous character and certainly grows in stature towards the end. As ever the backgrounds of the Abbey, the leper sanctuary and the town are beautifully portrayed and there is, as ever, a romance as well as a murder to be solved. I think it may well be a book which will engage me more second time around. If you don't want to start at the beginning of the saga - which I honestly believe you should - then read "A Morbid Taste for Bones" which in my humble opinion is the best thing Ellis Peters ever wrote. Sheer genius, and Brother Cadfael at his devious best!
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on 16 November 2000
This time, we're witnessing a wedding of the most mis-matched couple you could possibly imagine. A young lady of 16 years to an old man in his fourties (well, old in that they didn't live so long in those days!). One of the old man's squires is in love with the girl and has voiced his disapproval. This has lead to him being dismissed from service and accused of theft. He makes a daring escape and hides out nearby. The night comes and on the eve of the wedding, the grrom is murdered. Did Jocelyn Lucy murder his previous master? What do the Lepers have to do with this story? Find out, it's very much worth it!!!
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on 6 November 2015
Another terrific mediaeval detective story set in Shrewsbury abbey and featuring Brother Cadfael. It will keep you going right up to the grisly end, through land-grabbing, forced marriage and murder.
But why a work by a renowned English novelist has been spattered with Yankee spelling is beyond me!
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on 10 November 2013
It is quite good one, a story with a few twists, even if i could predict who did it, i couldn't predict the ending, so it gave me a few good hours of read. As usual, it helps if you know MIddle Age English or you use your Kindle's dictionaries, because the author uses a lots of out of fashion words (and i am not a native English speaker). Sometimes i had to skip long descriptions of scenery or other paragraphs describing the characters in detail as i was keen to figure out the solution, but it is a good crime novel.
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on 30 January 2015
An excellent tale. Well written with beautiful language and superb settings. The old monk is a wily but charming character and one I've followed for many years. Ellis Peters is an intelligent and thoughtful producer of the most wonderful stories and I would thoroughly recommend all the Cadfael stories.
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on 30 January 2014
This is the fifth book by Ellis Peters in the ever so enjoyable Cadfael medieval murder mystery series.
The year is 1139, a marriage has been arranged between an old nobleman and a young girl – an heiress to a big fortune. The marriage is to place at the Abbey in Shrewsbury, home to Brother Cadfael and his fellow monks. However, the peace of the Abbey is disrupted by a savage killing. Just outside of the walls of Shrewsbury stands St Giles, a leper house. Would the killer possibly take refuge in such a place? It is for Cadfael to try to find the killer with his usual wisdom and cleverness.
A very enjoyable read which although written over 30 years ago; Ellis Peters will always be one of the best writers of historical crime. I will look forward to reading the rest of the novels to keep up with the adventures of Brother Cadfael.
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on 29 March 2013
Another great mystery featuring brother Cadfael, the plot is more complex than some of the earlier books with the issues of the equality of women (or rather lack of it) as the rich heiress is a commodity for bartering for marriage by greedy relatives. Compare this to the character who is key to the mystery and treated badly by kin simply for the choices she made for a better life. The fear and treatment of lepers is also key, a disease which was prevalent at the time and those who suffered were apart from society. In this story this is used for advantage.

Of the two murders the second is a surprise and the outcome and revelations shed a lot of history on the characters and times.
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on 11 September 2001
This is a most beautiful tale and I won't spoil it by telling you the twist at the end. It is in the usual style of Ellis Peters, being a Medieval Whodunnit, but What Who did is really quite lovely when you find out! It is about dedication, persistence, devotion, self-sacrifice and triumph. Of course someone gets murdered, and of course Cadfael finds out, but love triumphs, in a surprising way. Experience it now!!
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