This particular Cadfael novel is a little slow to get going, with an unusual lack of mysterious corpses or sinister characters to investigate. Two monks fleeing the massacre at Winchester arrive at Shrewsbury, one maimed in the Crusades and a younger, silent companion tirelessly caring for him. As well as tending to the elder’s wounds, Cadfael wonders about the past of the silent young monk devoted to the welfare of his patient, and tries to discover what bond it is that keeps them so strongly linked.
The pace increases later in the story, and the ending is, if anything, more poignant for being more of a contemplative tale than usual. As always with Ellis Peters, the historical detail is vivid and ever-present without being intrusive, and Cadfael’s attitude of open-minded acceptance means that the fact that he’s a monk doesn’t force religious doctrine onto the reader.
An Excellent Mystery is a particularly complex story where morality is concerned, and touches on issues such as homosexuality and arranged marriage with a sense of compassion and understanding. All in all, not the most action-packed and exciting of Cadfael’s adventures, but one that leaves you thinking for some time afterwards.
Next up: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson