Two Cadfael novels in two days. The first was Ellis Peters' The Devil's Novice, number eight in the series. Nineteen-year-old Meriel is adamant about taking vows as a monk—yet obviously takes no joy in cloistered life, and screams in his sleep after seeing a bloody accident. The Benedictines, concerned about the state of Meriel's vocation, try to determine his motivation—and what it has to with a missing Church courier.
The timely solution of the mystery turns on a happy accident, as the motive is not disclosed until after the murderer is; in that sense, it is not a fair mystery (as usefully defined by Kristie Taylor). I don't particularly require my mysteries to be fair, especially those that I read for the characters, but this was noticeably so.
The next Cadfael book, Dead Man's Ransom, breaks the series' pattern to date: it's a non-even-numbered book that turns around the civil war and related disruptions. In the Battle of Lincoln, two important prisoners have been taken. King Stephen has been captured by the Empress Maud's forces (which shows that this is history, not fantasy, in which the rival claimant to the throne would be killed outright in battle); closer to home, Gilbert Prestcote, Shrewsbury's sheriff, has been captured by Welsh raiders. Happily, a Welsh youth has also been taken prisoner after a raid on a convent (we get to see Avice of Thornbury again, which is nice), and he is to be exchanged for Prestcote. Except that he and Prestcote's daughter fall in love, but Prestcote hates the Welsh, and then Prestcote is murdered . . .
Dead Man's Ransom turns on a particularly tangled set of love affairs, which made me wonder, rather cynically, how many star-crossed lovers there are out there that Cadfael gets to help them in every single book. But this is a fairer mystery than the previous one, and a more interesting one, as well. The series continues to burble along satisfactorily.
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