Compulsory Reading for 4 ESO (2nd Term)

Ellis Peters, A Morbid Taste for Bones

A Morbid Taste for Bones, the first chronicle of brother Cadfael, is the first medieval mystery in a series which narrates the adventures of Cadfael, an unusual monk who joined monastic life and the Benedictine abbey of Shrewsbury, England, late in life. Cadfael has lived an adventurous life: he has taken part to the Crusades and known many women, before deciding to take the vows as a form of retirement, looking for the quietude of monastic life and the industrious pleasure of gardening.

Soon the quietude is broken and adventure presents itself again to Cadfael, in the form of a strange illness and a dubious miracle. Brother Columbanus, prone to holy visions and of weak health, falls dramatically in the middle of chapter and seems unable to recover his senses thereafter. The following night, Brother Jerome, who would do anything to please prior Robert, the head of the abbey, has a convenient dream: Winifred, an obscure Welsh saint, will cure brother Columbanus, if he is brought to the place where the saint was beheaded. Everybody views this as an excellent omen, since prior Robert had been desperately looking for the unclaimed relics of a saint after a “rival” abbey had acquired their own.

One trip to Holywell restores Columbanus’s health. From then on, there is no reason to delay another trip to Gwytherin, in Wales, where the saint is buried, in order to claim her. Cadfael, who is Welsh himself, manages to be part of the voyage, and also obtains for Brother John, a young man whose vocation he questions, to come along. Once the congregation has obtained the authorization from both temporal and spiritual authorities, there is no impediment to their holy quest… or at least they think.

In the midst of passions raised by the holy bones, a death occurs, that will keep brother Cadfael guessing, enquiring and setting up traps in order to find the murderer. Among these proud and outspoken Welsh people, Cadfael will uncover hidden passions and secrets. In an age of piety and miracles, the truth will be harder to uncover without the help of forensic sciences, but Cadfael’s deductive mind and cunning will do the trick.

I really enjoyed A Morbid Taste For Bones. First of all because of the originality of the monk-detective and the XIIth century context (Umberto Eco has not invented the monk-detective: Cadfael was created 3 years before The Name of the Rose was published). Unlike The Name of the Rose, A Morbid Taste for Bones has no pretense at erudition, though it is full of accurate historical information. It is also full of humor and wit. Of course, it is not as satisfying as Eco’s masterpiece but it is an enjoyable reading nonetheless. It is also a good whodunit: not the best whodunit ever, but the ending presents an interesting complication.

I will definitely read more Brother Cadfael chronicles…

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