I have loved the Cadfael novels ever since the 1970s when Ellis Peters (aka Edith Pargeter) first started writing them. Last time I looked at replacing one of my books I found that they are difficult to get except as omnibuses. So this being the first book is contained in ‘The First Cadfael Omnibus’ along with ‘One Corpse Too Many’ and ‘Monk’s Hood’. The books are quite easy to read (once you get past trying to pronounce the Welsh words) but the series is captivating and the main characters are loveable. The books are set in the twelfth century during the tumultuous wars between King Stephen and Maud.
In this first book we are introduced to Cadfael who entered the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Shrewsbury in his fifties after a very full life, much of it spent in the Holy Land. Within the monastery he maintains the herb gardens and prepares herbal medicines and mostly follows the monastery rules if slightly irreverently.
The pompous and aristocratic Prior Robert sees himself as the natural successor to the aging Abbot Heribert. Prior Robert is keen to find anything that will bring him glory and strengthen his position in his bid to be Abbot. He discovers a little known saint – Winifred- in Wales and along with his cronies invents a series of visions that point to the saint’s relics wishing to be moved to Shrewsbury. But, on arrival in Gwytherin they discover that the villagers are less than happy to see their saint removed.
By the end of the story Cadfael, using both his herbalist and detective skills, must solve a murder, vindicate the innocent, keep the villagers happy, keep Saint Winifred happy, and ensure that young love can take its course. And, Cadfael achieves this without upsetting Prior Roberts plans and sensibilities.
Book Published 1977