I read A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters as part of the Unread Authors Challenge. I had mooched it awhile ago, based on several bloggers liking it, and then it languished on my shelves until this challenge brought it up!
Morbid Taste is the first in a series of medieval mysteries, centering around Brother Cadfael, a fifty-something monk who used to be a crusader. Now retired to a quiet life of praising God and gardening, Cadfael demonstrates a profoundly pragmatic outlook on life. In this book, the reader follows him to his native Wales, with a group of monks who are on a quest to recover the remains of Saint Winifred and bring the bones back to the monastery. When murder strikes in the small village, Cadfael must single-handedly find the killer, restore some people's reputations, and play match-maker. Fortunately, he's up the challenge!
When I began this book, I was very concerned. Quite frankly, it was rather dry; I prefer my mysteries to be on the entertaining side. I was all ready to be disappointed, but when I got to about page 50, the pace suddenly picked up. Several very likeable characters were introduced, subtexts began flying, and I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. This is a short book, at just under 200 pages, and I savoured the reading. Once Peters finds her groove, Cadfael is a really fun 'detective,' paternally supporting his friends and quietly laughing at his self-important fellow monks. I also loved that it was set in Wales. I mean, I never get to go to Wales in books!
I must confess, a large part of the appeal to me was the monks. When I was little, I was quite sad that girls couldn't become Jesuit priests, as that seemed the ideal career(yes, I was raised Catholic), and I always felt that if I'd lived in the Middle Ages, I would have been a monk. I don't know why I have such a fascination for them, but I certainly do. The Middle Ages is also my favourite age in European history, so I was quite excited to find a series set in that time period!
Ellis Peters, it turns out, is the pseudonym for Edith Parteger, a Brit who wrote extensively (more on her interesting life). There are a total of twenty Brother Cadfael books, and as the author has passed away, there are no more to look forward to. However, the nineteen should occupy me for some time.
As you might have noticed in my reviews for the Summer Mystery Challenge, I am quite picky about my mysteries. I love Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers; I need to read more Ngaio Marsh. Last Christmas, I discovered Laurie King's Mary Russell series (see bookeywookey's excellent thoughts on the first one), and that quickly became a favourite. This summer, I found myself really liking P.D. James. All of these authors have several things in common: tight plotting, somewhat 'cozy' (James is the closest to thriller), compelling characters, and damn good writing. I'm happy to say that Ellis Peters has now made it on to my short list of dependable mystery writers. If you enjoy well-written mysteries, or the Middle Ages, I'd highly recommend giving A Morbid Taste for Bones a try!