Friday, December 11, 2009

Saint Peter’s Fair (The Cadfael Chronicles IV): Ellis Peters

Good stuff! I’m a big Ellis Peters and Brother Cadfael fan. The books are much better than the ITV series (although Derek Jacobi is excellent) because Peters is such a great writer, paying attention to historical detail, character development, and plot. This Brother Cadfael mystery is set in midsummer in 1139, during a large annual fair that brought merchants (and spies) from far and wide. The battle between King Stephen and Empress Maude for the English crown is gearing up; the Empress, with her half-brother Earl Robert of Gloucester, is in Normandy working to enlist allies in the west of England; different members of the nobility are declaring themselves on the side of one or the other. On the eve of St Peter’s fair in Shrewsbury an important merchant is killed, presumably in connection with a dispute between the town and the abbey. But after his barge is searched and his niece, Emma, appears unconcerned about the loss of some of her belongings, Cadfael becomes suspicious. Two young men, one from the town and one outsider, are also strongly attracted to the beautiful young Emma. Before long a second merchant is found murdered; Cadfael becomes concerned for Emma’s own safety, and it’s clear that this is about more than a mere dispute between merchants. The plot builds to an exciting climax with an audacious rescue amid flames; true love wins the day. Two months after the fair the Empress Maude and Robert of Gloucester land near Arundel.