86. A MORBID TASTE FOR BONES, BY ELLIS PETERS (Book 1 of Brother Cadfael)
This one was recommended by my mother (Hi mom! *waves*). She described it as “The Name of the Rose without all the pedantic crap”. Now that I have read it, I couldn’t think of a better description.
Synopsis: Brother Cadfael, a Welshman who has lived a full and adventurous life and has decided to retire and spend his old age in an English monastery, manages to insert himself into an expedition to a Welsh village to pick up the bones of the Saint Winifred. The villagers aren’t happy to surrender them, and when the most vociferous opponent to this plan is found dead, Cadfael is forced to investigate the mystery before innocents are blamed for it.
Overall enjoyment: I liked it a lot. It was fun and very quick to read (although a bit slow-paced). It is very upbeat and light, and gives a very accurate (according to historians) portrait of monastic and village living during the 1100s.
Plot: The mystery is a bit obvious (mostly because she’s a bit heavy-handed in her foreshadowing) but it’s really not the most important part. The interactions between the characters are clearly what we’re supposed to be paying attention to. If it were a longer book, I’d probably get sick of it; since it’s so short, it’s just right. It feels a lot like an Agatha Christie book: Hercules Poirot solves the mystery, and he also figures out who has a gambling habit, who is sleeping with whom, who is the illegitimate child, who is being blackmailed and who is doing the blackmailing, etc. In this book, though, everything is a lot lighter, and Cadfael doesn’t expose everybody’s secrets (because he’s not a little shit, like Poirot).
Characters: They were very nice and well-rounded. Cadfael himself is very well written, someone who’s older, very worldly, very understanding. The prior, although clearly ambitious, is not evil. The villagers, who, in most historical novels, are usually portrayed as stupid, ignorant, and vicious, are written in here as something much closer to real people.
World/setting: She doesn’t delve a lot into monastic life (especially when compared to Umberto Eco), but I really didn’t miss it. The village life is portrayed throughout the story, inserting details when necessary. I quite enjoyed this style, and like it better than interminable descriptions and sidetracks.
Writing style: It’s very easy to read and straightforward, spiced with a delightful sense of humor.
Representation: Nonexistent, unfortunately. She might be able to claim historical accuracy in here, since the story is set first in a monastery and then in a village in the middle of nowhere, so small they don’t have outside visitors almost never. But yes, it could have been better.
Political correctness: There are no big positive sides, but no big negative sides, either. There are a lot of female characters, though, and they are shown to have a lot of agency and will.
Up next: Sorrow’s Knot, by Erin Bow