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on 18 August 2000
Ellis Peter's first Cadfael murder mystery takes as its setting the events surrounding the translation of the holy relics of Saint Winifred from the remote Welsh village of Gwytherin to the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Shrewsbury in 1138. Taking this real event as her starting point, Peters weaves an enchanting if rather overly romanticised tale of mediaeval rural and monastic life. Naturally, the practical common sense and basic human decency of her very worldy central character, Brother Cadfael, win out in the end. Here, he neatly side-steps all of many power-struggles - both secular and ecclesiastical - going on around him, to provide everyone with their heart's desire and solve the inevitable murder mystery into the bargain! Ellis Peters' writing style is so wonderfully erudite that one can always forgive her the occasional lapse into stereotypical characterisation or silliness of plot which tend to pepper her novels. "A Morbid Taste for Bones" is no exception in this regard, and whilst the story's central murder mystery is not at all hard for the reader to solve, the telling of it is so captivating that the book is hard to put down until it's finished!
Incidentally, I would recommend reading this book before any others in the series, because otherwise you will know which of the main suspects can be eliminated immediately! Of course, if you've seen the TV dramatisation, you'll know the main outcome already, but even then, the book is sufficiently different to still make it well worth reading. Recommended.
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I am delighted to see the Brother Cadfael novels beginning to appear on kindle and hope they will all be available soon. This is the very first book in the series, first published in 1977 and set in 1137, it still reads as though it could has been released this month. This is a timeless, classic mystery and an enjoyable introduction to the world of Cadfael and his fellow brothers at the Shrewsbury abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Brother Cadfael has arrived late to the cloister, after a full and eventful life. Now in his mid fifties, he has left the world behind him, embraced the monastic life and tends his Benedictine garden. However, as readers will know, he is always happy to become involved in events and, when Prior Roberts wishes to travel to Wales and secure the relics of a local saint for the monastery, he manages to be taken along as interpreter - and gain a place for young Brother John, whose vows he feels were made for the wrong reason.

Prior Robert is not a man who likes opposition and, along with his acolytes Brother Jerome and Brother Columbanus, he sets out determined to obtain the bones of Saint Winifred for the abbey. Local priest, Father Huw, is disconcerted when he hears of the mission and Rhisiart, a local landowner, opposes their desire to remove Winifred from Welsh soil. When Prior Robert attempts to use bribery to obtain what he wants, he finds he has misjudged the local people badly and, before long, Cadfael has a murder to solve. Cadfael is a charming character - a man who uses good sense, who does his best and who is never afraid of bending the rules if he is sure the outcome is worthwhile. If you are just embarking on this series then I envy you and I hope that these new, kindle versions, will help new readers discover these books.
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While the TV presentation of Cadfael, with Derek Jacobi perfect in the lead is entertainment at its best, the book, which goes into far more detail, is nothing less that exhilarating. I have a number of the Cadfael novels, but this is certainly my favourite. The characters are so well brought to life that the reader is embroiled in their strengths and frailties, while the plot keeps the tension high throughout. I had not read this particular story before, but found it to be exciting and enthralling to read even so many years after its original publication.
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The first Cadfael novel, from its start a delight. 1137. At Shrewsbury's Benedictine Abbey the magnificent herb garden bears testimony to the skills of its creator, a fifty seven year old monk with a most worldly past. For decades Cadfael fought and loved. Now he has settled for monastic life. His talents are wide, he not only adept at treating illness, but an acute observer of all around him. Great is his understanding of human frailty. Outwardly mild, he should never be underestimated.

Being of Welsh blood, he is the ideal choice to accompany Prior Robert and delegation to Wales, the mission delicate: transfer of Saint Winifred from her grave in remote Gwytherin. The Abbey thereby hopes to attract hordes of pilgrims and greatly boost its income. How will the people of Gwytherin react? Suspicion becomes hostility when their main spokesman is murdered....

Here is a book not to be hurried - all the better to savour its abundance of fascinating detail, subtleties and underlying humour. (The latter bubbles to the surface when a seemingly insurmountable problem is finally resolved.)

The times are evocatively depicted, as are the communities at both the Abbey and the Welsh village. For scene setting and creation of fullblooded characters, this is writing of a very high order. Interwoven are two love stories that greatly appeal and a murder mystery that genuinely intrigues.

An immensely enjoyable, leisurely, uplifting read - its detective far removed from those usually met in books. And so many novels to follow! What more could a reader want?
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The Abbot of the Benedictine monastery in Shrewsbury has decided his abbey needs the relic of a saint to raise their profile. A vision by one of his monks means that his attention fixes on Saint Winifred whose remains currently lie in a small Welsh village. Permission is granted to go and remove the remains and Brother Cadfael - being the only Welsh speaker among the monks goes with them.

What follows is a PR disaster and results in the death of more than one person. But Brother Cadfael works to see justice done even if the strict letter of the law - English and Welsh - may have been flouted.

I really enjoyed this delightful story with its many touches of humour and its collection of brilliantly developed characters. The all too pious Brother Columbanus, the gullible and too humble Brother Jerome, the misfit Brother John and the good man, Father Huw amongst the Welsh villagers. Saint Winifred herself is extremely active behind the scenes as well trying to ensure her mortal remains are treated how she would wish.

This is the first volume in the Cadfael series and I would recommend it to anyone who likes their crime stories in a historical setting. It shows how crimes can still be solved even if you don't have the battery of forensic testing available to modern crime fighters.
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on 10 October 2014
3.5 stars.
Three reasons for this review. Firstly, despite the medieval setting, this novel is basically a traditional whodunnit and, if you're thinking of buying it then may I advise extreme caution with regards reading other reviews beforehand. Some of them contain colossal spoilers without a word of warning and will ruin the story for you. Others try to be more careful but many of them still tell a lot more than you might want. Just a friendly word of advice.
Secondly, I would suggest that, if you're going to read a Cadfael novel or two (and you could do a lot worse) then read this one first, which is the series opener. I'm not being OCD here, but if you read any of the subsequent novels before this one then the simple presence - or absence - in the later books of one or two of the characters in "A Morbid Taste..." might give away more than you'd like.
Thirdly, whilst I liked this novel, and look forward to reading maybe a few more in the series, I wouldn't buy an expensive, complete boxed set. In case you're thinking of doing this yourself, perhaps based on your enjoyment of the TV series, I'd like to add a more modest praise to the large number of glowing 5 star reviews. and suggest that you may want to read this first to see how you get on with it.
I enjoyed this novel, although I'd describe it as good rather than brilliant. On the plus side it's refreshingly different and enjoyably readable, (although a little judicial editing would tighten the narrative without any loss), and I give the author special praise for the convincingly drawn characters. This requires a particular writing skill which not all authors posess, even otherwise good ones, and Peters brings her people to life with deceptive ease and minimal description. Well done.
Perhaps not quite as convincing are a few aspects of the storyline itself, but I think most readers are happy to sacrifice absolute plausibility on the altar of entertainment, and for the most part I was quite willing to suspend disbelief here and there.
Another plus is the way the author gives us a feel of life in medieval times with just enough period details to inform the reader, rather than bore us by showing off her research. In fact I wouldn't have minded a bit more historical education along the way, but I suppose that's what history books are for.
So far so good, and as I say, I did like this novel, but not unconditionally. Whilst the characters themselves come across as well rounded and believable, their dialogue sometimes idoesn't. Much of it is well written and convincing enough, but for me it frequently lacks the ring of credibility and worse, can be gratingly expositional. To give just one example is when one character loses control of their temper, with dire consequences. Lest the reader should wonder why this individual just happened to be in that place at that time, and why he (or she, no spoilers!) acted the way they did, Peters has Cadfael admonish the hothead with " A pity I ever suggested that **** should call you in to wait in reserve, in case we had trouble.." It's a device the author uses frequently throughout the book and I for one could gladly have done with less of it. Too many plot points or events are over-explained, often rather clumsily, and several times I wanted to shout "OK, we get it!"
Other minor irritations for me are the way in which overlookable implausibilty sometimes crosses the line into outright contrivance, and how Cadfael's conclusions and deductions are sometimes arrived at without a shred of logic, and plainly to facillitate the author's constuction . Can't really give examples (spoilers) but I'm sure many other readers will realize what I mean. Not a crime against literature by any means, but I couldn't help feeling that these sacrifices of credibility for conveniece would have been unnecessary if the author had just thought it through a bit better.
And finally I wasn't too keen on the ending. Not that's it's unimaginative or inconclusive, but again, just a bit too contrived and 'pat', and there is at least one rather obvious discrepancy which requires an effort of will (or simply an adoration of the novel) to overlook. An enjoyable read, and I'll certainly read at least one or two more Cadfael novels, but I can't agree that this first in the series is quite the literary masterpiece that others seem to think it.
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I am delighted to see the Brother Cadfael novels beginning to appear on kindle and hope they will all be available soon. This is the very first book in the series, first published in 1977 and set in 1137, it still reads as though it could has been released this month. This is a timeless, classic mystery and an enjoyable introduction to the world of Cadfael and his fellow brothers at the Shrewsbury abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Brother Cadfael has arrived late to the cloister, after a full and eventful life. Now in his mid fifties, he has left the world behind him, embraced the monastic life and tends his Benedictine garden. However, as readers will know, he is always happy to become involved in events and, when Prior Roberts wishes to travel to Wales and secure the relics of a local saint for the monastery, he manages to be taken along as interpreter - and gain a place for young Brother John, whose vows he feels were made for the wrong reason.

Prior Robert is not a man who likes opposition and, along with his acolytes Brother Jerome and Brother Columbanus, he sets out determined to obtain the bones of Saint Winifred for the abbey. Local priest, Father Huw, is disconcerted when he hears of the mission and Rhisiart, a local landowner, opposes their desire to remove Winifred from Welsh soil. When Prior Robert attempts to use bribery to obtain what he wants, he finds he has misjudged the local people badly and, before long, Cadfael has a murder to solve. Cadfael is a charming character - a man who uses good sense, who does his best and who is never afraid of bending the rules if he is sure the outcome is worthwhile. If you are just embarking on this series then I envy you and I hope that these new, kindle versions, will help new readers discover these books.
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on 4 May 2000
"Brother Cadfael had long been up before Prime, pricking out cabbage seedlings before the day was aired, and his thoughts were all on birth, growth, and fertility, not at all on graves and reliquaries and violent deaths...." Thus we meet Ellis Peters' inimitable monk in the initial episode of her long-running Brother Cadfael series. "A Morbid Taste for Bones" begins a series that has collected untold readers who feel that the series is also a crusade for themselves!
It is the twelfth century and throughout Britain, thoughts are on the civil war that is going on between King Stephen and the Empress Maud, twelve years of internecine struggle that, as civil wars are wont to do, has deeply divided the people.
And at the Benedictine monastery in Shrewsbury, Cadfael has settled down to a life of monastic devotion, following a career as a crusader to the Holy Land. His is a past that at first seems incongruent with the life of a monk, but God works His
wonders in many ways, and, as no sinner is beyond God's mercy, as Cadfael likes to say, he has now found his place on earth. "(He) himself found nothing strange in his wide-ranging career, and had forgotten nothing and regretted nothing. He saw no contradiction in the delight he had taken in battle and adventure, and the keen pleasure he now found in quietude."
He is a specialist in medicinal herbs and is in charge of the herbarium; he is a man of God gifted in logic and fair-play; he is a man of great understanding and compassion; and he is no fool. In "A Morbid Taste for Bones," Cadfael is assigned by his prior to lead a delegation to a small village in Wales to acquire the bones of their patron saint, Saint Winifred. As Cadfael was born in Wales and naturally speaks the language, he is the top choice of the priory. But retrieving the relics is no simple task, as Peters displays, and before long a murder is discovered. Cadfael's expertise comes in handy, as "his skills as a herbalist are matched by his prowess as a detective."
And with Peters' abilities as a Grade A novelist, the reader is kept spell-bound until the final pages of this medieval thriller, a story well-developed and strongly-paced. It is a literary journey well worth the price!
The author is the recipient of the Crime Writers' Association/Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for her Cadfael books, and has written a number of other works, including her Inspector Felse series.
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on 28 April 2015
After an adventurous life as crusader and sailor, Cadfael retires to a Shrewsbury Monastery as a herbalist. A fellow monk dreams of St Winifred and Prior Robert leads a party to faraway Gwytherin to bring the Saint's bones back to Shrewsbury. Welsh-speaking Cadfael travels as interpreter but needs all his worldly experience and knowledge to deal with a murder, several false accusations, two beautiful girls and their lovers but manages to find a solution which keeps everyone happy
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on 2 January 2015
The first instalment of the Cadfael Chronicles sets the scene historically, leading us into a world of medieval mayhem. As this is also set in Wales, it's a good view into the unease between the Welsh and English at the time, not to mention the Normans and Saxons. Cadfael is an enigmatic character, with an adventurous past but it needs all his skill to avert disaster as the monks get out of their depth. Recommended for both fans of historical fiction and mystery.
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