Instead of a murder mystery, it's a story of passion, loyalty, justice, service, and devotion. It wasn't until a scene late in the book of Nicholas single-mindedly seeking Hugh in the pouring rain that I realized he was displaying just as much passion as poor Brother Urien, just about very different things.
A mystery develops when it's discovered tha the man's fiance never made it to her intended abbey. Again, as with so much of Ellis Peters' Cadfael saga, the mystery is secondary to the picture we develop of life in that time.
Brother Cadfael is re-assuring; a well-weathered monk with knowledge of the world, of battles and romantic love, a gentle man, whose knowledge of medicinal herbs and ailments makes him even more respectable. What's not to like about Brother Cadfael? The Abbot, Brother Radulphus: a very capable leader of the monastic order, and a man without obvious faults: unwavering in his convictions, protector of the weak, a friend to Brother Cadfael, and keenly aware of the need for political shrewdness at a time of civil war (as that time was for England).
There are problems involving point-of-view, with information being revealed to reader that the main characters could not possibly know--an unwelcome change from earlier books--and Cadfael appears very little and does very little.
Its really quite startling, the contrast between the few women we see in the text and the attitudes of even a Cadfael, usually our modern transplant in the twelfth century.
A pair of monks, refugees from the destruction of their abbey in the fighting and destruction at Winchester, arrive at Shrewsbury, one obviously dying, the other, his devoted companion, mute. Ellis Peters actually lived in Shrewsbury, England, where Cadfael's monastery of St. Peter and Paul can still be visited. He's lived a full life, now he wants to be quiet.
A man returns from the Crusades, as did Cadfael himself, to retire from the world into the Benedictine order. The Cadfael mysteries are set at the Benedictine monetary in Shrewsbury, England, during the twelfth century civil war called the Anarchy. The Cadfael stories are best read in order, but if you have a formidable to read list, dont miss this one.
Edith Mary Pargeter, OBE, BEM was a prolific author of works in many categories, especially history and historical fiction, and was also honoured for her translations of Czech classics; she is probably best known for her murder mysteries, both historical and modern.