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VINE VOICEon December 26, 2000
"One Corpse Too Many" appeared a couple of years after the earlier, `pilot' book in the Brother Cadfael series. During the intervening period, Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) had fleshed out her picture of mediaeval Shrewsbury somewhat - and also clearly formulated a plan for developing her earlier novel into a longer series of stories. This second book skilfully sets the scene and introduces characters for later volumes, so for maximum enjoyment of both this and later volumes, you should read this early in the sequence (indeed, the TV dramatisations of the books features this as the first episode).
The action of this book is set in 1138, during the siege of the castle of Shrewsbury - held by parties loyal to the Empress Maud - by King Stephen, anxious to defend and uphold his claim to the throne of England. As in the previous book, Brother Cadfael's interest lies more in seeing to a successful resolution the personal dramas of those innocents caught within the wider political manoeuvrings, than any pursuit of larger goals. Indeed, his dogged pursuit of the truth and justice for the unidentified and unremarked "extra" corpse amongst those slain on Stephen's orders is just one example of this. Throughout the book, though, the solving of the murder mystery takes second place to his concern for those still living. Indeed, the murder is solved almost along the way, as it were. And not by Cadfael, alone.
As with others in this series, Peters' use of archaic language (both words and phrasing) in her prose and attention to historical detail draw the reader wholly into the picture of mediaeval Britain that she paints. In addition, she has a fine sense of drama, which makes the book hard to put down from the outset. Even when you know the outcome, the tale remains gripping, so even if you've seen the TV dramatisation, this book remains an excellent and exciting read. Its ending is somewhat different (and rather more satisfying) than the TV version, too.
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VINE VOICEon August 22, 2000
With her first Brother Cadfael novel ("A Morbid Taste for Bones"), English author Ellis Peters introduced us to perhaps, now, the most famous of the medieval "detectives"! And in her second installment, "One Corpse Too Many," we find the erstwhile Benedictine monk up to his neck in another murder mystery, this time involving way too many deaths!
In this episode, Brother Cadfael and his beloved Shrewsbury have the unpleasant task of burying the bodies of 94 soldiers, killed as a result of a battle between Stephen and the Empress Maud, both trying to claim the throne of England. In this ugly civil war, we find the countryside constantly in a flux as to which side is which, as this struggle, which lasted for 12 years, seemed to change shapes and sides all too frequently. In this instance, it is Stephen who has won the day. After the hanging of the hold-outs, Brother Cadfael, representing the church and the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul in Shrewsbury, goes in to arrange for the proper burial of the dead. He is told there were exactly 94 bodies. Instead, he finds an extra one--that of a young man, unidentified, who has had his throat slashed.
And Brother Cadfael, over the course of the novel, uses all his God-given talents to solve the mystery. And solve it, of course, he does. He wants not only to identify the young man, but to name the murderer. At the same time, Peters, whose real name is Edith Pargeter, lays the foundation for two of her other recurring characters, Aline and Hugh Beringer (This is a nice romantic touch!). Cadfael, himself, is the herbalist to the abbey and uses that skill to help him solve the murder. He is also able to call upon some of the knowledge he learned during his younger days as a Crusader to the Holy Lands. In all, Peters has created a full-blown medieval character--one who is at once ever the romantic, yet is worldly enough to negotiate the foibles of reality. Peters and Cadfael add up to a great literary combination and their numbers prove it!
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on December 4, 2003
Every so often I pick up a book that has been published for years and wonder "Why didn't I read this earlier". Such is the case with this book, the second in the Brother Cadfael series. I always thought the notion of an amateur sleuth in medieval England sounded a bit too hokey for me, but after seeing this novel listed as one of the Independent Mystery Sellers Association 100 Favorite Novels of the Century I decided to give it a try. Part political intrigue, part historical romance, and part mystery, this novel had me hooked from chapter one.
There are twenty books, or chronicles, in the Cadfael series that take place against the backdrop of the battle between King Stephen and Empress Maud for the contested throne of England. In this particular novel, King Stephen and his forces overtake the castle at Shrewsbury, the town in which Brother Cadfael's abbey is situated. Allegiances to King Stephen and Empress Maud create an atmosphere fraught with danger for no one can be trusted to keep any secrets under penalty of death. Cadfael looks into the murder of a young man who is found strangled among the corpses of the defenders of the castle whom King Stephen has had hanged for treason.
This murder takes a backseat to Cadfael's efforts to protect the daughter of one of the former Nobleman of Shrewsbury castle, who had pledged allegiance to Maud, and a game of cat and mouse between Cadfael and a mysterious young man named Hugh Beringar. Both story lines have enough suspense of their own in diverting the reader's attention from the murder. The language and style of the book is written in an almost Shakespearean way lending to the atmosphere of a very romantic period. This may seem a bit "flowery" to some, but lends some authenticity to the time period. This was a fun book and I look forward to reading more of Brother Cadfael's adventures.
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on August 15, 2014
If you like/love historical mysteries and you haven't read Ellis Peter's Brother Cadfael series - you've really been missing out. I started the series in 1982 with number 6, "A Virgin in the Ice," and it's still my favorite. "One Corpse too Many" is the second one and this is where the historical background moves into the foreground. Either "Corpse" or "Virgin" are good places to begin. The first book, "A Morbid Taste for Bones" is interesting, but not a favorite. It functions as a prequel to the series. You don't have to read them in order, but once you get past the earlier books, you do lose a lot of story nuances if you don't read them mostly in order.

Brother Cadfael is a Benedictine monk with an herb garden who went into the monastery after serving as a man of arms in the Crusades. The specific time period is the civil war (the Anarchy) between two heirs of Henry I. Sometimes the war features in the book, as in this case, some times it doesn't. Sometimes religion is a factor, sometimes not.

Brother Cadfael uses his knowledge of herbs and people to solve a variety of crimes.

Peters' settings (and the descriptions of them) are gorgeous and the mysteries well done.

Run, don't walk, to read these. Peters' (real name Edith Pargeter) mediocre books are better than most peoples' great books. (I like her modern series featuring Inspector Felse and his family too, but they can be hard to find.)

There was also a TV series with Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael. The series didn't work for me mostly because the stories lacked, as videos frequently do, the depth of the books. The fact that they were presented out of sequence didn't help. The actor who played Hugh Beringar in series 2 & 3 didn't work for me because he didn't look - or act - as described in the books. I keep meaning to go back and see if time has mellowed my opinion.
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on August 27, 2015
One of the things that brings me back to the writings of Ellis Peters is that her characters are never one-dimensional. They reflect real people with emotions, conflicts, and challenges to overcome. Although the Brother Cadfael books depict a time nearly 900 years in the past, the situations described are very real and the wit and wisdom of Brother Cadfael are only exceeded by his compassion and understanding of the frailties of men and women.
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on July 7, 2014
Well written and very entertaining. Ellis Peters wrote over 20 Brother Cadfael books and so far only 3 are available in Kindle format. Instead they are available in paperback, Audible Audio and dvd formats (which are more expensive than Kindle). I wish ALL in the series of her Chronicles of Brother Cadfael were available in Kindle format. After all, the reason I bought the Kindle in the first place was so that I could have all my books in one place and save a little money.
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on July 1, 2015
After the battle of Shrewsbury castle, Brother Cadfael prepares the executed defenders for burial. There are supposed to be 94 corpses but he counts 95 bodies. An examination determines that one person was not slain in execution but was most foully strangled and his body left with the dead defenders. King Stephan grants Brother Cadfael permission to find the murderer.

Then things get complicated. It is discovered that there is a treasure to be found which the castle's defenders intended to be smuggled out to use in the fight against King Stephen. There is also a Lady of the castle in hiding that, if captured, could be used as a pawn by the king. A love interest develops between the lady, disguised as a boy, and a squire charged with saving the treasure from King Stephan. Cadfael is soon engaged in a battle of wits with a lord Beringer who is determined to seize the treasure and the lady for the king. Beringer himself had been betrothed to the lady but he has another lady that he is smitten with. Can Cadfael bring these events to a happy conclusion and then get on with discovering the murderer? Or, is this all tied in together?

I found this to be a very interesting story with good characters, fine dialogue and interesting plots and subplots. The wording may have been a bit ponderous at times but that all helped to keep the feeling of the time period. The book length may only be listed as 181 pages but it seems to read as being much longer than that.
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on January 30, 2003
This is one story which I had seen on PBS, which inspired me to read the original. What a treasure lay waiting in my bookcase!
I found that all Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael books are "Excellent Mysteries", even if I occasionally question her private brand of clerical or secular justice. But the literary gems of extreme value are those five novels which enhance our understanding of the protagonist's character. An additional bonus to the delectable mysteries themselves with their beautifully landscaped setting of England or Wales is our introduction to medieval customs and monastic ritual.
I promise to be careful not to give anything away which might diminish the reader's enjoyment of future novels in the series (20, plus a prequel book of 3 short tales). My favorites are #1, where we realize the importance of Cafael's devotion to his Saint Winifrid, also Welsh. Next comes #2 because we have the wonderful relationship with Hugh Beringar, his friend and fellow sleuth--no matter which of the warring cousins they seem to serve: King Stephen or Empress Maud. My last 3 favorites are those novels which reveal Cadfael's gradual relationship with Olivier--no hints or spoilers. Thus the unlikely hero who has retired from the world to pursue a life of inner peace within the cloister becomes increasingly more human; he earns our sympathy, respect and love.
Forget the clever plot on this one--for it is the unique and fascinating countredance of personalities that makes this novel precious. Each side in the battle for the kingdom is distrustful, trying to outmaneuver the other. Readers must decide for themselves who gains the most, who loses the most and who has the last laugh. Brother Cadfael certainly enjoys great freedom of movement--missing many masses and daily offices in purusit of justice--thanks to the old Abbot's pious nature and shunning of secular matters. Ellis Peters offers us much more than mystery artfully blended with medieval history; she presents great insight into the human heart and mind. Savor each novel and Brother Cadfeal will surely become your favorite herbalist-detective.
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on March 7, 2016
This is the second Brother Cadfael mystery. King Stephen, who is fighting for the throne of England against Matilda, conquers Shrewsbury, and he has hanged the armed men who resisted him. There are 94 traitors, yet when Cadfael comes to take charge of the bodies for proper burial, there are 95 bodies, and one was not hanged nor in armor. This is a classic mystery that stays true to its time period. Cadfael is a true super sleuth in genre terms, and the cat and mouse back and forth with one of the characters is a true pleasure to read. There are twists a plenty also. It's a satisfying read all around.
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on August 31, 2015
The Ellis Peters Cadfael mysteries are well written, fun to read, and reveal the author's profound sense of medieval history. I loved them when I read most of the series in the 70s and 80s, and now they are just as delightful.
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