Friday, May 24, 2013

The Leper of St. Giles by Ellis Peters

The Leper of Saint Giles (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #5)The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Abbey at Shrewsbury is to host the middle ages equivalent of the celebrity wedding of the year, between a consequential but much older lord and a highly manipulated young woman of great property. While the two to be wed care little for each other, the groom and the bride's guardians (her Aunt and Uncle) see the material advantages. The bride's affections and happiness are engaged elsewhere with a young squire in her groom-to-be's household. When the groom doesn't show up for his wedding and is found dead in the woods things start to become tricky. Meanwhile at the local leper colony, there is a particularly mysterious newcomer who takes a great interest in the hullabaloo at the Abbey.

This is a lovely convoluted mystery with links to the crusades and which involves a mysterious and awesome mistresses and some wicked guardians. It's a great and detailed plot with plenty of nuance even if the solution at the end is somewhat reminiscent of a Scooby Doo or Poirot mystery where all is unraveled and revealed in a big flourish.

Again we have a large new cast to get acquainted with and Peters makes it easy to distinguish and get to know them. Joscelin Lucy is a particularly engaging young hero who is believably young and somewhat self-consciously chivalrous. We see the entrance of the hapless Brother Oswin who plagues Cadfael as his assistant and Peters descriptions of his enthusiasm and clumsiness are hilarious. The denizens of the Leper colony that we meet are equally charming especially the little boy Bran and the mysterious Lazarus.

It's interesting to see how Lepers were treated in Medieval times when the causes of the disease were not understood and the effects were devastating and often deadly. Considering the amount of fear and disgust associated with lepers it is amazing that colonies for their care existed and emphasizes the bravery of the uninfected souls that chose to care for them. Peters uses this to her advantage - Joscelin's acceptance and willingness to move amongst these folks are a testament to his strength of character.

The narration by Johanna Ward is again excellent.

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