33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2007
This contains three good reads. It has fine plots, descriptive characterizations, & smooth writing. Cadfael is a wondering Welsh soldier with a huge heart, but feels that a big change is needed in his life after coming home from the Crusades. He soon rescues an English monk from Cadfael's own master, & tensions abound. Not so surprisingly, he realizes that the serenity of being a monk is what he now needs. Jump fifteen years to "The Price Of Light," where Cadfael is now deeply settled as the abbey's apothecary & herbalist. This one was the best of the three stories. I won't spoil it by divulging the details, just read it for yourself. The third story "Eye Witness," is about a violent theft of the abbey's rents. Here cadfael is the dogged detective who has to sort out a myriad of possible suspects. Can a witness help, or is Cadfael alone? To a certain degree these are condensed medieval mystery soap opera's. But, far superior to most anything that we are used to. These stories made the twelfth century come to life in vivid pictures. For that alone, it deserved four stars.
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2003
I didn't think I'd like Brother Cadfael. What little I'd seen of the TV Cadfael portrayed by Derek Jacobi had led me to believe Cadfael somewhat of a wimp. I studiously avoided Cadfael both on TV and in print. A long automobile trip and a dearth of listening material sent me to the audio section of a chain bookstore, and I happened on this audiobook detailing the origins of Brother Cadfael. It didn't take long to find out how wrong I'd been about Cadfael.
Brother Cadfael is no Father Brown. He is a robust, bear of a man whose spiritual strength matches his physical strength. As a youth he went Crusading and broke heads in God's service. As a mature man he took up another Cross and devoted himself to mending heads, again in God's service. As devout as he is, however, he cannot refrain from meddling in the affairs of others. His meddling takes the form of solving murder mysteries and other criminal conundra.
This collection of three short stories, however, is not the volume with which to begin your acquaintance with Cafael. Begin your reading of Cadfael with "A Morbid Taste for Bones." It is not only the first story in the series, it is an excellent murder mystery. It also gives the reader a pleasant window into the life of ordinary people in Medieval England.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 1998
This book consists of three novelettes (about 50 pages each) complemented by curious, eye-catching b/w sketches by Clifford Harper. Peters' 1988 Introduction provides brief glimpses into her favorite monastic's rare name, worldly career and personality. His personal, secular philosophy includes wry but compassionate acceptance of human foibles with our capacity for deception and depravity. No mention is made of his special patroness, Saint Winifrid--also Welsh--but his devoted admirers will revel in any literary work which fills in the gaps about our cowled Crusader.
The cover is a colorful triptych representing all three tales. Hint to meticulous readers: focus on the Eyes of the characters--at whom or what are they really looking? If you are a fan of Brother Cadfael, and have read all 20 of his full-length mysteries, you will be delighted to find one last chance to admire him in action. If you have not yet been introduced to Ellis Peters' medieval sleuth, this Prequel Trio may whet your appetite.
Here we have the Advent of Brother Cadfael, as he survives his blessedly brief Midlife Crisis--a truly rare and human Benedictine, content (most of the time) to seek the peace within the pale. Herbalist, private philosopher, paramedic and detective, he has a nose for the truth and an eye for suspicious behavior. This is one Brother who will light up your mystery reading! You may even learn something about the Middle Ages if you don't watch out...
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2000
Those of you who are Brother Cadfael fans will certainly enjoy this tale. Our monastic sleuth has solved innumerable mysteries but he, himself has been a mystery. We never knew about his origins or how he became a monk.
His advent is certainly a good read as we learn about the life of Brother Cadfael the former mercenary and wanderer. Three brief stories are given in this volume. The first deals with Cadfael's origins, the second follows up on a mystery of stolen silver candlesticks and the third tale regales us with the theft of the Abbey's rent. All three taken together presents us with a rare insight on how Brother Cadfael's mind and curiousity works in solving a mystery. This was a fun read.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Did you ever wonder just how the soldier, Crusader, and lover of the pleasures of life became the Benedictine monk known as Brother Cadfael? In this wonderful collection of short stories, you will discover the answer to your question. (In fact, the spiritual journey of the good brother will not be totally alien to those in the 21st century who find themselves searching for fulfillment in a materialistic world. But I digress.)
Although not as deep or complex as the full-length novels, "A Rare Benedictine" will serve as a welcome addition for those already addicted to Brother Cadfael.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 1998
These three short stories that make up the book are good, but lack the intrigue of the novels. The first story, A Light on the Road to Woodstock, is particularly interesting in that it tells how Bro. Cadfael came to the cowl. Because it is such a quick read, devoted Cadfael fans will want to read this book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2013
Three short stories written by Ellis Peters over the years and first published elsewhere have been collected together in one volume.
The first story (which I had read before in a collection mysteries in the middle ages) covers Cadfael's return to England after twenty years of being a soldier overseas. It is the story of why he lays down his sword to become a brother at Shrewsbury Abbey.
The second story, which takes places a few years after the first, concerns the gift of sterling silver candlesticks to the abbey for their altar to Mary the mother of Jesus. The candlesticks are stolen and Cadfael, with true christian love, solves the case.
The third and last story is about the attempted murder and robbery of the abbey steward who was returning from a full day collecting rents. Will Rede was on his way to the abbey when he was knocked on the back of his head, his money pouch slit from his body and his body thrown off the bridge to drown in the river. Rede is rescued and revived by Madog who collects dead bodies from the River Severn but Rede remembers nothing. Cadfael assists the town sargeant who is a newcomer to the area in catching the true thief and would be murderer. I know I had never read this one before and despite the grim plot it had some rather funny parts to it.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2000
I spoke with a woman recently who visited Shrewsbury, England and toured the 'Brother Cadfael' sites. The tour guide mentioned that one of the most common questions she gets is 'Where is Brother Cadfael buried?' The answer of course is in Ellis Peters' novels. A combination of murder mystery, Benedictine spirituality, and English 12th century life-history-culture make Peters' novels my favorite series of the many English mystery writers. For other titles on Benedictine spirituality in the daily life of 21st century non-monastics look at these books:
The Family Cloister: Benedictine Wisdom for the Home, by David Robinson (NY: Crossroad, 2000); Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today, Joan Chittister (OSB).
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 1997
Though written after several of the novels were in print and quite successful, these short stories include the tale of Cadfael's decision to give up the life of a wandering mercenary and take up the life of a Benedictine. It also includes to shorter works that describe brief adventures after Cadfael took the hood.
I am a Cadfael fan in all his incarnations, including Sir Derek Jacobi's interpretation for the BBC/PBS Mystery series, so I am a little biased. If you are familiar with the series of novels, you will find a welcome 'more of the same' here. If you're not, realize that Cadfael is a 12th century English Benedictine monk who gave up the life of an adventurer for the life of the cloister. He has become an expert in herbal medicine, and seems drawn to mysteries, especially murders. HOWEVER - let me hasten to add there is no hoaky "Murder She Wrote" air about this. The 12th century was a rough time. Travellers dead on the road were not uncommon, yet murder was still a crime. The characters are engaging and believable, and the setting is at once alien and familiar, much like good Tolkienesque fantasy.
My only complaint about this collection is the "origin" story itself. There seems no telling incident, no epiphany that took Cadfael from one life to another. At some point in his life, it seems, he simply decided to retire. It may well be that, were the man to be among the living, that's what would have happened, but in fiction one looks for more plot twists.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2001
In 1120, Cadfael saw "A Light on the Road to Woodstock". Roger Mauduit's father deeded a manor to the abbey of Shrewsbury, which granted it back to him as a life tenant. The old man and Abbot Fulchered trusted one another, and were careless with the charter's actual wording. Now that both principals and all the witnesses have passed away, Roger has brought suit against the abbey that the tenancy is hereditary, and should remain with him, so Mauduit and the abbey's representative, Prior Heribert, are bringing the case before King Henry at Woodstock. Prior Heribert is armed with the abbey's correspondence with old man Mauduit as proof of intent.
Unfortunately, Mauduit knows his only hope is to keep Heribert from appearing in court, so the King will find for Mauduit in default. When `footpads in the forest' kidnap Heribert, Cadfael (a Welsh armsman temporarily in Mauduit's employ) becomes suspicious. (This story also describes the first few stones that grew into the avalanche of the civil war between the Empress Maud (the King's daughter) and King Stephen.)
"The Price of Light" In 1135, Hamo FitzHamon, a harsh, self-indulgent lord of 2 manors, takes thought for his soul, when his sixtieth year greets him with a mild seizure. On the theory that the prayers of the brothers carry more weight with Heaven than those of ordinary recipients of charity, he has arrived at Shrewsbury for Christmas with his young wife, to conclude a charter arranging payment for the lighting of Mary's altar, and to gift the altar with 2 exquisite silver candlesticks (despite the custodian's opinion that the value of the candlesticks would be better sent to the almoner in this harsh winter). When the candlesticks disappear from the altar, half-blind Brother Jordan, who knows the value of light better than anyone, says that he has witnessed a miracle, of which he may not speak for 3 days.
"Eye Witness" A few days before the abbey's annual rents fall due, poor Brother Ambrose has fallen ill, and the abbey has had to hire a lay clerk to handle the paperwork. Master William, the abbey's steward, takes Ambrose's illness as almost a personal insult, but he's a complaining sort of man, whose worst cross to bear is his wild, continually-in-debt son. The day that Master William collects the rents, Madog of the Dead Boat fishes him out of the river - knocked out from behind, robbed, and thrown into the river for dead, but rescued just short of drowning. Cadfael, knowing that the church attic overlooks the scene of the attack, persuades old Rhodri the beggar (who sleeps up there) to help him bait a trap for the thief.