Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In this fifth novel of worldly monk and self-appointed detective Cadfael, the tension of the book hinges first upon a bleak arranged marriage and the young man who is in love with the bride. Murder, when it occurs, adds a new dimension to an already intriguing storyline. There is a rhythm, a pattern and poetry to Ellis Peters' novels, and if that makes certain aspects of the story predictable, the tradeoff is the experience of the book.
Peters is as devoted - if not more - to showing the positive, luminous side of humanity, kind deeds both large and small, and her books brim with people who rise above the gravity of the crime. For me, personally, I sometimes find her take on pure young love to be repetitive, and I'd love to see darker romances ... but the characters in these books are always skillfully drawn and entertaining.
The writing style is poetic and leisurely, prone to details and a certain delicacy in description. It's not for those who prefer a swift, action-packed pace, but is ideal for slow immersion.
One of the best features of this series is that both the broader history - the tumult occurring in England between Empress Maud and King Stephen - and the personal history of Cadfael continue to evolve and change, not in earthshattering ways, but in subtle, organic steps. Shrewsbury can be relied upon both for its stability and for its forward momentum. However, a reader can pick up any of the books and generally feel neither lost nor as if something has been spoiled, should they go back and read an earlier volume.
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