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Peters, Ellis

cadfael novels war bones

(British, 1913–95)

Ellis Peters (pseudonym of Edith Pargeter) was a prolific novelist who spent her life in Shropshire except for war service in the WRNS. She Goes to War (1942), a semi-autobiography, and her war trilogy The Eighth Champion of Christendom (1947), following Jim Benison in action from Dunkirk to Singapore, deserve to be better known. Like all her novels, these are strong in plot, realism, and characterization. In crime fiction, Peters's thirteen Inspector Felse books precede The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael (1977–94), twenty novels fusing history and mystery. Her sleuth Cadfael, a Welshman and herbalist, is a Benedictine monk of Shrewsbury Abbey. Peters uses twelfth-century history and Shropshire's topography to create complex plots of intrigue, treachery, revenge, and love. Questions of morality, faith, and redemption underlie the rich tapestry.

Start with the first, A Morbid Taste for Bones (1977), establishing Cadfael's character, the close community of the abbey, and its personalities. The plot hinges on the transit of St Winefred's bones from Wales to Shrewsbury, two murders, and a romance. In The Virgin in the Ice (1982) Cadfael investigates the disappearance of two children and the murder of a nun, found frozen. He also discovers he has a son. Don't miss The Summer of the Danes (1991): Cadfael is in North Wales when a Danish fleet approaches and a corpse is discovered. Move on to Peters's fine historical novels, The Brothers of Gwynedd quartet (1974–77), based on the last Welsh princes. She also translated Czech literature and published three collections of short stories.

Umberto Eco, P. C. Doherty  GC

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