Friday, January 28, 2011

The Holy Thief - Ellis Peters

the holy thief
ellis peters
c. 1992
275 pages
completed 1/12/2011

read for: historical fiction challenge, page to screen challenge

*may contain spoilers*

In the height of a hot summer, in late August of 1144, Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, deferred to the heat of the sun, and made the final, fatal mistake of his long and opportunist career.

Ramsey Abbey had fallen prey to a band of soldiers of the Empress Maud's party who had left their cause for the more fortuitous pursuits of ransacking and pillaging northern England. The sudden death of Geoffrey de Mandeville left them without a leader and the monks were able to reclaim their abbey. Sub-Prior Herluin and his enigmatic companion Brother Tutillo travel to Shrewsbury in search of money, supplies, and labor to aid in Ramsey Abbey's rebuilding. They stay long enough to help the monks of Shrewsbury protect their treasures against a tremendous flood. When the flood is over and the monks of Ramsey leave, Shrewsbury discovers its most precious treasure, the bones of St. Winifred, is missing. It's quickly discovered to be making its way to Ramsey. Brother Cadfael aids Hugh Beringar to discover if the theft was the work of a man or if St. Winifred herself made her way into the cart. But before the matter can be settled, Cadfael and Hugh may find their holy thief to be a murderer as well.

As the penultimate book in the Brother Cadfael Chronicles, The Holy Thief doesn't disappoint. Brother Cadfael is right in the thick of things, befriending and aiding the accused, breaking some abbey rules in order to investigate, conferring and conspiring with Hugh and Abbot Radulfus. I was pretty disappointed with the last installment (see: Summer of the Danes), but this one was back on track.

Cadfael's relationship with St. Winifred has always been an element of these books that I've really enjoyed. Sometimes Cadfael can come across as slightly too practical for a monk so witnessing their communion is always nice, especially considering what's actually in St. Winifred's reliquary. I also really appreciated the balance between Cadfael's practical feelings on the trial by bible element of the theft (a scene I really enjoyed) as well as his experience of the miraculous as he interpreted the words. Though he knows those can easily be rigged and interpreted in many ways, the words spoke to him very specifically.

In every installment in the series there is always at least one set of lovers (one of which is usually the accused) that Cadfael helps to bring together. And USUALLY I always like them. There have been occasions where I wasn't wild about one or the other (again Summer of the Danes springs to mind). In this case, I liked both characters separately, but the two together left me cold. First off, they didn't interact a whole lot so I wasn't able to see and understand them falling in love. They seemed a little mismatched to me.

I always love when one of these books makes reference to characters and events from previous episodes. And this one had lots of shout outs: Brother Columbanus, Liliwin, and Soulien Blount, all from different books. Nice.

I only have one more to go. I'm going to be so sad to see the series end. :(


As I read this in part for the Page to Screen Challenge, check out my review of the 1998 TV-movie version here.

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