7 January 2009

Forgotten Book: A MORBID TASTE FOR BONES, Ellis Peters

Another contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books theme.

It would be rare to find a crime fiction reader, particularly one who likes historical mystery fiction, who hasn't read at least some of Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael series.

Brother Cadfael lives in Shrewsbury, returned from the Crusades, and now a monk and a herbalist. In some senses his mysteries are very ordinary investigations, but they are imbued with a strong sense of history, and sometimes with a touch of romance.

The series began in 1977 with the publication of A MORBID TASTE FOR BONES.
In the 12th-century Benedictine monastery of Shrewsbury, Brother Cadfael has settled down to a quiet life in charge of the herbarium. It is fortunate his prowess as a herbalist is matched by his detective skills - when his prior acquires the bones of a saint, the obstacles include murder.

The series continued with over a book a year for 18 years. They were all set in a turbulent period of English history, approximately 1135-1145, in the wars of King Stephen and Queen Maud. Wikipedia has an article on the relationship of the stories to real history.

From 1994-1998 ITV produced 13 movie length stories starring Sir Derek Jacobi as Cadfael. He really brought the character to life for us.

Recently I have listened to 2 Audio CDs both read by Derek Jacobi, both excellent.

If you've never read any Cadfael, then you are in for a real treat. Look for the seven Omnibuses for best value. Each generally contains 3 complete, unabridged books. Make sure you read them in order if you can though, because the stories build on each other and the character of Cadfael grows.

A list of titles from Fantastic Fiction:
1. A Morbid Taste for Bones (1977)
2. One Corpse Too Many (1979)
3. Monk's Hood (1980)
4. St. Peter's Fair (1981)
5. The Leper of Saint Giles (1981)
6. The Virgin in the Ice (1982)
7. The Sanctuary Sparrow (1982)
8. The Devil's Novice (1983)
9. Dead Man's Ransom (1984)
10. The Pilgrim of Hate (1984)
11. An Excellent Mystery (1985)
12. The Raven in the Foregate (1986)
13. The Rose Rent (1986)
14. The Hermit of Eyton Forest (1987)
15. The Confession of Brother Haluin (1988)
16. The Heretic's Apprentice (1989)
17. The Potter's Field (1989)
18. The Summer of the Danes (1991)
19. The Holy Thief (1992)
20. Brother Cadfael's Penance (1994)
A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael (1988)
The First Cadfael Omnibus (omnibus) (1990)
The Second Cadfael Omnibus (omnibus) (1991)
The Third Cadfael Omnibus (omnibus) (1992)
The Fourth Cadfael Omnibus (omnibus) (1993)
The Fifth Cadfael Omnibus (omnibus) (1994)
The Sixth Cadfael Omnibus (omnibus) (1996)
The Seventh Cadfael Omnibus (omnibus) (1997)

Ellis Peters (1913-1995) wrote also as Edith Pargeter, Peter Benedict, Jolyon Carr, and Peter Redfern. She wrote a prodigious number of books: the first was published in 1936 and the last in 1994, mainly historical fiction, history, and mystery fiction.

The Crime Writers' Association, annually acknowledges the contribution of Ellis Peters by awarding the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger.

If you like historical mystery fiction, then you might also like to look for the winners of this award.

2008 Stratton’s War, Laura Wilson
2007 Mistress of the Art of Death, Ariana Franklin
2006 Red Sky Lament, Edward Wright
2005 Dark Fire, CJ Sansom
2004 The Damascened Blade, Barbara Cleverly
2003 The American Boy, Andrew Taylor
2002 Fingersmith, Sarah Waters
2001 The Office Of The Dead, Andrew Taylor
2000 Absent Friends, Gillian Linscott
1999 Two for the Lions, Lindsey Davis


Kailana said...

This is an author that I have always meant to read and never got around to!

Kerrie said...

What a treat you have in store Kailana

Uriah Robinson said...

Interesting that there has been only one medieval winner.

Scott D. Parker said...

Like Kailana, I have never read any of the Peters books. Last fall, at an antiques show, I found book #1 and plan on reading it this year. Thanks for the wonderful write-up. I'll be back after I read the book.

Kerrie said...

Norman (Uriah Robinson) - that is an interesting point. I suppose many of the other Medievalists such as Penman are more history/romance than crime fiction although there is Alan Gold and P.C. Doherty at least isn't there.

Scott - good luck with that. I have found some of the writing at times a little dated. I'll be interested to hear your reactions. I think the interesting thing about the series is how it then spawned the television one, and how completely Derek Jacobi became accepted as Cadfael.


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