If you’ve never read any of Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael mysteries then A Rare Benedictine is a rich preamble to the series and the foibles of its protagonist. And, if you already are a fan, the book fills in a few big gaps about the origins of the monastic herbalist and murder sleuth. This volume is a collection of three novellas–or very long short stories–that doesn’t dig as deep as the full-length mysteries but ranges wide. Begin with the introduction by Peters and find out how Brother Cadfael got his unusual name and what sparked her to begin the tales of Cadfael in Shrewsbury Abbey in medieval Wales.
In “A Light on the Road to Woodstock,” Cadfael is a Welsh crusader at the end of the adventures who signs on to return to England in the pay of a lord because he has no other urgent plan. Cadfael has traveled the world, fought skillfully and valiantly, finished what he started and been a man of his word. A fellow traveler, a monk who fled his monastery and his vows in order to taste the pleasures and adventures of distant lands, decides to return to his Benedictine abbey. Cadfael contemplates this about-face but there are dastardly plots afoot, a plan to kidnap an abbot, a conspiracy to murder a noble, deeds most foul foiled by the perceptive Cadfael. Find out here how he lays down his sword for good.
“The Price of Light” involves two exquisite silver candlesticks, the killing cold of winter, a crude manor owner and his beautiful young wife, broken promises and a miraculous vision. Brother Cadfael, by now, is well-established as the herbalist and healer of the abbey and his stores of dried lavender and poppy syrup are in demand for guests who face uneasy nights. A mix of urgent motives, a serious theft and the secular strategies of a cosmopolitan monk combine for a satisfying resolution of multiple dilemmas.
“Eye Witness” turns a blind eye toward attempted murder and mayhem, imperils the abbey’s annual rents, trades an unconscious half-drowned man for a large fresh salmon and reveals the unshakable solidarity of family ties. Cadfael makes use of poultices, throat remedies and clever deceptions to expose a nefarious criminal and restore order to the Benedictine Order’s business.
There are twenty Cadfael mysteries and I am sure I haven’t read all of them. If the library still has the whole collection, I can immerse myself in a medieval monastery, with all the juicy details of the tumultuous 12th century and colorful Brother Cadfael as the tour guide, a few more times this year.
A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael (Brother Cadfael Mysteries) Ellis Peters | The Mysterious Press 1989