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The Holy Thief (Brother Cadfael Mysteries) Hardcover – March 1, 1993
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From Publishers Weekly
Less predictable and far more complex than many of the 18 previous Brother Cadfael chronicles, this 12th-century mystery pits the sacred against the secular, and cleric against cleric. A sub-prior and his young novice appeal to the abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul in Shrewsbury for aid in rebuilding their own monastery at Ramsey, which had been defiled by outlaws. Craftsmen, building materials and even jewelry are gladly given and are to be transported to Ramsey. The promise of spring floods makes haste imperative, and in the confusion another item is slipped aboard the cart: the casket containing the remains of St. Winifred, Shrewsbury's revered patron saint. The Shrewsbury monks grieve over its loss, and the faction at Ramsey sorely covets it. When the one person who could identify the sacrilegious thief is murdered, Sheriff Hugh Beringar is summoned and Cadfael's special skills are put to the test. Cadfael--a herbalist, matchmaker, detective and medical examiner--must now be a psychologist as well, soothing egos, calming nerves and finding a killer. Twelfth-century Shropshire comes vividly alive when peopled with Peters's aristocratic ladies, sturdy lawmen, eager squires and, above all, devout--and devious--monks.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
YA-- Monks from another abbey and a troubadour and his servants are visiting the abbey in Shrewbury when the bones of St. Winifred, its patron saint, are stolen. Brother Cadfael must locate them before a long-held secret is revealed about them that would be embarrassing for him. Then the murders begin . . . . This medieval mystery series continues as Brother Cadfael identifies and pursues each clue in this unusual and entertaining story. Precise words accurately describe the period, and they can usually be understood in context. It will be easy for teens to like the clerical sleuth because of his delightful charm and keen wit. Although religious, he is not sanctimonious.
- Claudia Moore, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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There are two important prologues to "The Holy Thief." You will need to read the first book ("A Morbid Taste for Bones") and the eighteenth book ("The Potter's Field") in this series before this twentieth entry, "The Holy Thief" makes total sense to you.
If you haven't read them, here's what you need to know:
In "A Morbid Taste for Bones" Brother Cadfael substitutes the body of a murderous monk into the reliquary that was meant for the Welsh Saint Winifred, and leaves her remains buried in peace in Gwytherin, Wales. So all the way through this series, the monks and pilgrims have been worshiping the reliquary on St. Winifred's altar, not realizing that there had been a body switcheroo. Only Brother Cadfael and his friend, Sheriff Hugh Beringar are in on the secret.
By the time we get to "The Potter's Field" Geoffrey de Mandeville, once a supporter of King Stephen, has turned rogue and is terrorizing the Fens. He captures and sacks Ramsey Abbey, then uses it as the headquarters for his band of thieves and outlaws.
****END SPOILER ALERT****************************************
In September 1144, Geoffrey de Mandeville's reign of terror in the Fens is put to an end by an opponent's arrow. His followers disintegrate into small bands of outlaws that prey upon travelers and isolated farmsteads.
Abbot Walter of the ruined Ramsey Abbey collects his scattered monks back into the fold so that they can begin the rebuilding process. He also reaches out to other Benedictine monasteries for aid.
In February 1145, Sub-prior Herluin and young Brother Tutilo arrive at the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul with Ramsey Abbey's request for aid.
The Abbey and the people of Shrewsbury respond generously with money, jewelry and a wagon-load of wood. But before the Ramsey group can finish packing up, the Severn River begins to flood the Shrewsbury Abbey's grounds and even threatens the altar where Saint Winifred's reliquary is displayed.
All of the monks, including the Ramsey contingent and some townfolk pitch in and move all items that are likely to be damaged by the flood to higher ground, including the precious reliquary.
The wagon loaded with wood and other more valuable donations takes off for Ramsey. The flood slowly subsides, but when the Shrewsbury monks begin to clean up and put everything in order, they discover that Saint Winifred's reliquary has gone missing.
Brother Cadfael has good reason to pray that the thief does not break the seals on the reliquary and take a look inside!
In spite of a murder, "The Holy Thief" is one of the more light-hearted entries in this entertaining series. My favorite scene involves a procedure called 'sortes Biblicae' where the Book of Gospels is opened at random by representatives of three opposing parties, to determine whether St. Winifred's reliquary stays with the monks of Shrewsbury Abbey or whether the Saint would prefer to settle into a new home in the Fens.
This story, though fast-paced and interesting, is too diffuse. It doesn't know which of its themes is the most important: the murder? theft of the donation? theft of the saint? the love story? the rivalry between the two priors? This fragmentation causes several promising characters to be lost in the shuffle (such as onetime novice Sulien Blount, his brother and his fiance), others (such as Remy, the troubador) to be one-dimensional, and the denouement to become unimportant and unsatisfying.
Unusually, Brother Cadfael has little to do, beyond some basic forensics, and acting as confidante for the lovers. His knowledge of herbs and medicines gets barely a nod. He doesn't even diagnose Brother Jerome's ailment as an attack of guilt. Hugh Beringar too takes a back seat, and the "guest of honor," the Earl of Leicester, adds little to the story.
It's all too easy to guess the main villain (the one person with no real need to be in the story) and this person is given no history, character, or motivation. The footpads who steal the horses and wagons meant for Ramsey, are never found.
So, as a mystery, this book is pretty much a failure.
That said, the book's high point, its description of a Sortes Bibliae, is almost good enough to offset all shortcomings. In a kind of clerical court, the abbot and the three claimants for Saint Winifred's relics, randomly open pages in the Bible to determine her wishes, in complete faith that she can communicate and do miracles.
Most recent customer reviews
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