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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2002
Ellis Peters' "The Leper of St. Giles" starts off as, and continues to be, more of a pure love story than any of its predecessors. Since it is a Cadfael story, murder and mystery do indeed rear their ugly heads. Once more, Cadfael is called (with the support of his nifty new abbot) to do more than mix herbs.
Cadfael's former apprentice Brother Mark has left the nest as the story begins. One of the great joys in this book is to see the continued growth of Mark as a minister. In fact it is Mark, more so than Cadfael, who finds himself in the center of the action in "The Leper of Saint Giles."
This is a story that has a lot to do with the meaning of identity and the impact of deception. The basic plot revolves around a lowly squire who loves a wealthy heiress. The problem is, the heiress' wretched relations are intent on marrying her off for financial gain. From this rather nasty situation springs murder and false accusation. It is the job of Cadfael and Mark to make things right.
The more I read of Ellis Peters, the more I admire her work. She had a unique literary voice. So much wisdom is imparted in each story. This is doubly true in "The Leper of St. Giles." The reader is left questioning the actions of Cadfael and pondering the meaning of Justice.
While I am left with many questions and I missed Cadfael's old buddy Hugh, I found this book to be one of the more satisfying Cadfael stories. I highly recommend "The Leper of St. Giles."
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2006
In this fifth chronicle of Brother Cadfael of the abbey of St.Peter and St.Paul of Shrewsbury, a young, reluctant heiress is brought to the abbey for a marriage, forced on her by her greedy guardians, to a much older, gross mannered man, Huon de Domville. The prospective bride loves a young squire of her own age, but all of her protests are swept away in the name of joining together, two considerable estates. On the eve of the wedding, de Domville dismisses his servants and rides out alone for one last visit to his mistress, before the marriage takes place, but is found murdered in the woods, with clues firmly pointing to the young squire, Joscelin Lucy. Lucy had been overheard in the local inn by many people the evening before, making threatening remarks about de Domville while getting fall down drunk. Joscelin is arrested but manages to elude his captors, hiding in the nearby leper colony, which is supervised by Cadfael's protege, Brother Mark. The abbot enlists the aid of Cadfael in sorting out the mess, but when the murdered body of the girl's guardian is also discoverd, only Cadfael looks in the right direction to clear up the mysteries. As ever, in these fascinating books, Cadfael emerges as a man ahead of his time, as a clear thinking problem solver who cuts through prejudice and superstition, to bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Ellis Peters' fifth Brother Cadfael mystery is set against a backdrop of one of the less savoury aspects of life in Mediaeval Europe - the scourge of leprosy and the terrible disfigurements and consequent social stigmas that its sufferers endured. That is but the backdrop, however; in actuality, this is as typical a romance from the pen of Ellis Peters as it is possible to find!
The action of the story takes place just a few months after the setting for the previous Cadfael book, in the autumn of 1139. For once, the on-going civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud does not feature in the tale, which is concerned only with the impending marriage of a young, orphaned heiress to an overbearing and insufferable baron, many years her senior. It is quickly obvious that this marriage is no love-match, on either side, and has been arranged purely for the advancement of the girl's guardians and, of course, the bridegroom. It is also obvious from the outset that the would-be bride is more smitten with the squire of her affianced lord than with the baron himself and that this attraction is mutual. Most readers will quickly come to dislike Huon de Domville as much as do the young lovers. Nor will anyone be surprised where suspicion (from everyone except Cadfael) falls when the bridegroom is rather conveniently found murdered on the very morn of his wedding day!
But that's about where the clear-cut and obvious end in this plot, which needs someone of Cadfael's shrewd and observant nature to tease out all of the complex pieces of the puzzle and fit them together correctly. And this is one of those classic Cadfael tales in which it is, indeed, only the good Brother (apart, of course, from the reader) who knows the whole truth of events by the end. As in the very first book, he remains quite content to leave the others with their own version of just who is guilty of what, aware that there are times when the justice of the Good Lord and that of Man might not always be in accord.
The book is written in Ellis Peters' inimitable prose style and paints her usual vivid picture of mediaeval life, both within the cloister and without. It has its humorous moments, not least of which is the testing of Cadfael's patience and faith by his keen but clumsy new acolyte, Brother Oswin. The book also provides us with new insights into some characters from earlier books, such as Brother Mark answering a new calling amongst the sick and maimed of the lazarhouse, as well as introducing us to a new character who will be important in future books. As always, the author is to be congratulated on achieving an excellent balance between writing for readers new to the Cadfael series as well as for established fans. There should be much here to please those in the latter category without any risk of newcomers becoming confused.
The book does contain one of Ellis Peters' few technical mistakes, though, as she confuses the modern gardener's creeping gromwell (Lithodora diffusa) with one of its native relatives. In the times of this tale, creeping gromwell would have been quite unknown in Britain. It is, in any case, an acid loving plant and most definitely would not be found growing in the chalky ground in which Cadfael encounters it. Unfortunately, while its only blue-flowered native relative, the purple gromwell (Lithospermum purpuro-caeruleum) is indeed a lime lover, that plant's flowering season is over by June and so it would not still have been in bloom in October, the time of the good herbalist's investigations. This botanical mix-up need not greatly concern the reader, however. The compelling nature of Ms Peters' storytelling is sufficient to make such nit-picking details entirely unimportant.
Enjoy this book the way it was intended: as a good, solid, murder mystery and romantic novel, set in harsher times when, in many ways, life was a lot less complex than it is today.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2001
In many ways this is a classic in the Cadfael series. I say that in the sense that this book puts forth most of the best elements that are found (more or less) in every book in this series.
There is the sense of place. In this case, the book lets the reader into the world of the lepers. Set aside by humanity, the leper colony of St. Giles proves a multi-dimensional world with an integral role in the plot.
There is romance. As in most of the books in this series, Cadfael lends a sympathetic ear to a smitten pair. In this case, their obstacles are many and it's a fun read as things are unraveled.
And then there is Cadfael seeing what others miss. It is Cadfael that notices a twig of a rare flower near the dead body. Likewise, Cadfael sees some bruising on the body that could only be caused by a certain ring. And more than once, Cadfael simply applies his experiences to discern what human nature is most likely to do.
My gripes with the book are worth a point off. Foremost, the author seems to have forgotten rule number one of detection (surely as applicable then as now) - who would benefit financially from the death? I also missed Hugh's presence. And a most minor quandry -- were they really able to tell time to the point of distinguishing between 6:15 and 6:20 back then???
Bottom-line: a very solid and pleasant read for fans of historical mysteries. Reading of earlier books in the series would be helpful but isn't necessary.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 1998
Another brilliant mystery by "crimi" Queen Ellis Peters, LEPER offers much more than grim details of life in a Lazar house. Unfortunately Hugh Beringar is not in residence during the autumn of 1139, so Brother Cadfael has to solve this murder on his own. Yet we are treated to another "old friend"--Brother Mark who has graduated from Cadfael's helper in the herb garden to the stewardship of St. Giles.
Best of all Peters introduces her readers to a unique female character, whose unusual life spans the extremes of women's roles in medieval society. Unlike Richildis, who represents Cadfael's past, Avice arrives during his present and helps him in the future. Twenty years a mistress to the unsympathetic murder victim, she is suddenly faced with middle age and no way to keep herself. Witty, attractive while comfortably plump, she impresses Cadfael with her veracity, ease with all ranks of men and inevitable administrative skill in her new career of Benedictine nun.
Clever, resourceful and bedimpled (could Peters be decribing her idealized self at one time?) the newest novice at Gordric's Ford will appear in future mysteries--as Cadfael's distaff Dr. Watson, helping him on odd occasions. There is a subtle undercurrent of other-sex awareness on Cadfael's part, which this multi-talented woman cannot fail to notice, but their relationship is quite proper, as they are mature enough to appreciate each other's virtues without desire.
Hints of a crusader's life in the Middle East provide wider historical scope than the usual, boring exploits of those rival cousins for the English throne, King Stephen and Empress Maud. Before, during and after the plot per se, we wonder at this mysterious lurking leper, hiding his rotted white face behind a blue veil. Who is he and why does he show up at St. Giles just before a controversial wedding? Coincidence or considered plan? Why does he slip away before savoring the gratitude of those he has saved? A ripping good yarn, but from Peters--the master of medieval murder and women's roles--we expect no less.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2006
This was my first foray into the Brother Cadfael series, having recently retrieved several of them from the neighbors giveaway bin. I think I am already hooked! It's too bad this series is not more widely available in the US (or perhaps I don't inhabit the right bookselling establishments).

This is standard mystery fare for the most part, but with several unique twists. First and foremost is the 12th century England setting. This is quite educational in and of itself, especially for Yanks ill-versed in English history or for anyone who thinks that nothing happened durring the Middle Ages. The details certainly give you a sense of historical accuracy, although I am not not a qualified judge of such things. I was also interested to find out that one can explore the remains of the locale in present day Shrewsbury.

Brother Cadfael himself is a unique character. Although I believe the clergyman-cum-detective has been done before (actually he is a monk but not a priest), his work is complicated by the fact that he is never officially authorized (in this book anyway) by the sheriff to investigate the crime, nor is he paid for his work. Most of his investigations are surreptitious and voluntary, performed to satisfy his curiousity and desire for justice.

This particular book, in addition to the mystery, gives us a striking love story, involving an arranged marriage and forbidden love. While the outcome of the love story is never really in doubt, it does give you a rooting interest while you observe the investigative evidence unfold. There is also a fascinating look at the world of leprosy, one which has probably not changed much in many countries and which has only changed in the developed world in the last 100 years. To top things off there is a surprise twist involving Muslim-Christian relations, which is remarkably apropos for today's world despite having been written 20 years ago about something that took place a milleniumn ago.

One word of caution: as a consequence of the attempt at historical accuracy, there are many vocabulary words and turns-of-phrase that are obscure in modern English (especially American English), which tends to slow the reading down some. For those who want to broaden their vocabulary a dictionary would be useful, although the general gist of the story is usually evident from the context. In any case, don't be put off, it's worth the effort!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2006
A beautiful orphan heiress (Iveta) with a large dowry and mercenary guardians is about to be forced into a marriage of convenience with a rich but loathsome toad (Huon de Domville). When Huon's young, handsome retainer (Joscelyn Lucy) expresses his love for Iveta and his opposition to the marriage, he is fired, Huon is murdered, and the hunt is on for Joss. He could easily escape, but he will not leave until he can rescue Iveta from her guardians.

Joss takes refuge in a leper colony and is aided by an ancient, eight-fingered leper called Lazarus and a young boy whose mother is dying of leprosy. Can Joss escape the hangman's noose? Can the Iveta escape her guardians? Can the two star-crossed lovers be reunited? Who is this mysterious Lazarus?

Only one man in the whole of England can unravel this mystery, and he happens to be living in the nearby Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul. He is, of course, the Abbey's herbalist, Brother Cadfael, a former Crusader and pirate.
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on February 12, 2015
The fifth book of the Cadfael Chronicles, this one deals with a complicated murder involving a mean-tempered old man with a long-term mistress and a squire in love with the very young lady (old enough to be his granddaughter) who has been coerced into the wedding by her uncle and guardian. While this mystery is being solved with an obvious suspect (namely, the squire) being not guilty but looking guilty. I am impressed at just how often this series points out that people tend not to investigate the truth when someone obviously looks guilty and has an easily conceivable motive, and how rare someone is who is willing to give the benefit of the doubt and dig deeper. Here too Cadfael's experience in the Crusades and his wide experience in dealing with people allows him to recognize honest people as opposed to those who are playing a much more dangerous game.

In this case, parts of the mystery are not difficult to solve at all. A young man bonds with his future grandfather-in-law while they are both seeking the interests of a beautiful heiress, and there is little to help bond people together than shared projects where both parties can show their character and become allies with a common cause, even if the law is against them. Here too there is a concern for class--the young woman is supposed to marry a young man, not an old man, and the young man happens to be their heir to some manors of himself and therefore a member of her class, and a man with a sense of fair play as well, and so a suitable partner to protect the estates of a young woman whose manors served to enrich a greedy uncle rather than serve her own happiness. So too we see a mistress, cast off when her partner dies, faced with no good option but to seek retirement in a nunnery because no other honorable options exist for a Norman's whore whose family cut her off, and who is too old and too dishonored to be seen as anyone's wife.

The theme of honor runs heavy in this novel, giving it a depth far beyond its plot. A young orphan seeks to honor her guardians even as they take advantage of her. A boy honors his mother even as she dies of leprosy. A family dishonors a clear-eyed and honest relative who saw a chance at a better life, even if it was an immoral one. A young man honors an old leper who turns out to be far more important than (almost) anyone could have guessed, even if he is dishonored by many who consider themselves to be important. The abbot goes out of his way to honor the magnates who come to celebrate a marriage in Shrewsbury, only to end up honoring them by providing them burial after their demises, and Cadfael, as is his noble fashion, honors those he meets, no matter how old or young, no matter their socioeconomic status or gender, seeking truth and a great deal of justice and mercy, and finding more of it than any of us have a right to expect.
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on October 8, 2011
The Leper of St. Giles, Ellis Peters

This story takes place in Shrewsbury (a walled town partially surrounded by the River Severn). The Abbey and Bishop's House are outside the walls. There is to be a marriage between the powerful Norman baron Huon de Domville and a wealthy young woman Iveta de Massard. This baron's squire Joscelin Lucy loves this young woman. When Joscelin is found alone with Iveta he is driven out. Later a valuable is found hidden in his saddle bag and he is arrested for theft. But he escapes by jumping off the bridge into the river. The next morning Domville is found dead, strangled by a man whose ring made a cut in his neck. Joscelin is the prime suspect. Brother Cadfael also investigated and noted the clues. What happened to Domville's head covering? Cadfael searched and found it in the woods, a strange flower beside it. Cadfael walks into the country to learn what he can, and finds a small hunting lodge. Then he returns home. Later he finds where Domville went and who he met.

The Sheriff and his men continue to search for Joscelin without success. Cadfael traveled back to the Abbey. What if he found another dead man in the woods? When Joscelin emerges from hiding to escape he is found and captured. Cadfael arrives with important information that will clear Lucy, and about the second murder. A widow goes wild and accuses an unsuspected man. [Did love and money provide a motive for murder?] The examination of this suspect reveals evidence of guilt. We learn about his double-dealing and trickery from others. Cadfael noticed that Godfrid had not used his dagger. He has suspicions about an overlooked man, and an idea of his name. We then learn the naked truth.

Like the mystery novels of the early 20th century the murderer is revealed in a group setting. Later we hear the rest of the story. The idea of stretching a rope between two trees seems false. A rope would form an arc and would only work in a narrow range. A rope fixed about two feet off the ground would be more reliable in tripping a horse and rider. We read about leprosy in the Middle Ages, but it seems to have died out by the 17th century. Was leprosy regarded as punishment for sins? Did modern medicine find a cure? The Benedictine Order had a reputation for setting a good table, the opposite of the Trappist Order. Their motto "lavore est orare" symbolized their practical methods.

Edith Pargeter wrote scores of books and received awards (OBE, an honorary MA from Birminghan University, and a Gold Medal for her translations of English classics into Czech). She died in 1995 at 82 years. "Ellis Peters" authored a series of mysteries set in 12th century Medieval England. A Benedictine monk acts as an herbalist and detective to solve problems. Most people know little about life in those times. The story about grapes and wine making was true in those warmer times. Greenland was a green island where people lived on the crops they raised. The Little Ice Age in the 14th century put an end to that. Three successive years of crop failure created famine and the Black Death that killed over one quarter of the people in Europe.
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on November 9, 2012
Joscelin Lucy, a young squire in the service of an unpleasant lord, finds himself in love with the young woman destined to become that lord's bride. The orphaned heiress's aunt and uncle are selling her hand to the highest bidder, and "Joss" will dare anything to protect her from that match. He must act swiftly; the wedding party has already arrived at the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul, and the marriage is set for tomorrow. When his lord dismisses Joscelin and then has him imprisoned for theft, after a valuable piece of jewelry is found among his possessions, Brother Cadfael cannot believe the accusation. In fact, Cadfael rejoices when Joscelin escapes and flees from the Abbey. He also cannot believe the bride-to-be, who asserts - even when Cadfael wins the privilege of speaking with her privately - that she is going through with the wedding of her own free will. When murder follows, as it must in a Cadfael mystery, the new abbot gives Cadfael permission to investigate.

What makes this book particularly interesting to me is its layers of characterization. No one is quite what and whom he or she appears to be, with the possible exceptions of Joscelin Lucy and his beloved (innocents that they are) and, of course, Cadfael himself. Abbot Radulphus is proving to be a delightful character, and Brother Mark - formerly Cadfael's apprentice - more than holds up his part of the plot, as the healer in charge of the lepers' refuge at St. Giles. The "surprise twist" ending of the tale works beautifully, with the foreshadowing it receives earlier in the book becoming clear only when the plot demands it. An excellent read.

--Reviewed by Nina M. Osier, author of 2005 EPPIE winner "Regs"
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