A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters

20 Jan

A Morbid Taste for BonesA few months ago, I don’t remember exactly how or where (though I am pretty sure it was during the many discussions of the puppies and the Hugos), it was brought to my attention that the author of the Brother Cadfael novels was, in fact, a woman.

On impulse, the next time I happened to visit the one remaining used bookstore within fifty miles, I bought over half a dozen of the Cadfael Chronicles, thinking it was about time I read at least one of the books that helped popularize historical mysteries.

Unfortunately, by then I was suffering form the most horrific reading slump known to woman, and so the books have been languishing in the many peaks and ridges of ye olde TBR Cordillera.

Until Saturday.

On Saturday, I grabbed the first title and didn’t let go until I was done.

So here it is, my first TBR Challenge review of 2016.¹

A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters

I am not exactly sure how I had managed to keep myself innocent of all things Brother Cadfael. I mean, I knew that there was a television series, apparently very good, but that was pretty much it.

Now, I’m kicking myself over and over–what. an. idiot! I’ve been, not reading these novels!

Here’s the blurb, from my battered paper copy:

Soon after his arrival at the Benedictine monastery of Shrewsbury, Brother Cadfael finds himself on a mission to his Welsh homeland. Acting as translator, he must help his prior obtain the bones of Saint Winifred, which now rest in a small village grave.

The Welsh villagers are loath to part with the relics of a martyr said to have miraculous powers, but before an agreement can be reached, the one villagers most outspoken in his dissent is found murdered. His lovely daughter is determined to find his killer–and Cadfael is eager to help.

Carefully, kindly, and with cunning enough to please any mystery fan, the good monk sets out to solve his first case. In the process, his heart is touched by two pairs of star-crossed lovers, and he just may effect a miracle of his own.

The premise of the mystery deals with a historical fact–the removal of Saint Winifred’s bones from her original resting place in Gwytherin to the Shrewsbury Abbey.

The writing voice is simply brilliant. The humor is wry and sly and oh, so lovely!

Cadfael is so very human in his observations about his fellow Benedictine brothers and, indeed, everyone else around him, and so very compassionate in his understanding of human nature, that even his most cynical thoughts have a gentleness that sets them apart from most (certainly, he’s much more forgiving of human foibles that directly affect him in a negative way than I am).

The crime at hand is, natch, deceptively simple, and so is, in the end, the manner in which it is solved; what makes the read so satisfying is the wonderful cast of characters, seen though Brother Cadfael’s at once shrewd and empathetic eyes, and the rich sense of history within the story.

The pages are quite simply imbued with a sense of the period in which the story is set, without hitting the reader over the head with dry or unnecessary details, or sly winks as to how much research was done prior to writing the novel. An offhand comment by a secondary character, a single sentence in a descriptive paragraph, and we are brought to the twelfth century, with all its mysticism, common sense, ignorance, and politics.

And oh, the writing!

I was fully engaged within two paragraphs, and chuckling to myself by page ten.

Take this bit, from page 13 of my paperback edition:

An alien priory, only a few miles distant, with its own miracle-working saint, and the great Benedictine house of Shrewsbury as empty as a plundered almsbox! It was more than Prior Robert could stomach. He had been scouring the borderlands for a spare saint now for a year or more, looking hopefully towards Wales, where it was well known that holy men and women had been common as mushrooms in autumn in the past, and as little regarded.

Saints, as common as mushrooms in autumn. Snerk!

I am afraid to talk too much about the rest of the cast of characters, because I think I’m liable to spoil the story for the few out there who haven’t read this book. (I definitely lack the author’s subtlety!) I’ll just say that I was not positive of the identity of the culprit until the narrative revealed it unequivocally.

And there are two lovely, sweet romances too!

What more could I ask, really?

If you belong to that small number of readers who are new to this series, I enthusiastically encourage you to find a copy by whatever legal means you can, and read it. It’s wonderful! And, at just about 250 pages, it doesn’t require a terribly onerous investment of time and energy to find out whether you agree with me about the writing, the mystery, the character, or the setting.

I am so happy I have half a dozen more of these novels at hand!² (Of course, now I must find the rest of the 21 Brother Cadfael tomes published, and quite likely try other works by the author under her various male pseudonyms.)

A Morbid Taste for Bones gets a 9.00 out of 10

~ * ~

¹ Here’s hoping it’s not the one and only too.

² Since I have little to no self-control, I’m now on the fourth of the titles I do have.

42 Responses to “A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters”

  1. nurcat 20/01/2016 at 7:33 AM #

    If you enjoyed the books (😊) You’ll thoroughly enjoy the TV series. Derek Jacobi is fabulous as Cadfael . And if you prefer audio,try the BBC audio version read by the late great Philip Madoc .. What a voice that man had !

    • azteclady 20/01/2016 at 8:03 AM #

      I’ve heard great things about the series, and I may give them a try when possible. However, I’m one of those people who resent when the movie takes too many liberties with the story set forth in the book, so I promise nothing.

      (For example, as much as I like David Suchet’s Poirot, I mostly despise the ITV adaptations, because in most of them aimed to ‘update’ the stories)

      As for the books, I’m devouring them–on book 5 at present. Who needs sleep? (And what a glorious feeling is that, to become so engrossed in a story, little else matters!)

      • Art Kaufmann 21/01/2016 at 12:14 AM #

        I haven’t watched the show in years, but as I recall, they stick pretty close to the books. My only complaint is that she got formulaic after a while. The repeated trope of the star-crossed lovers saved by the wise Cadfael can pall. I think I still have the full set on a shelf somewhere. Time to reorganize the books!

      • azteclady 21/01/2016 at 6:58 AM #

        *waving* Hello, my friend!

        If my humble review gives occasion to a re-read of a couple of these, I’m pleased indeed!

  2. Lori 20/01/2016 at 10:32 AM #

    Well you just added to my TBR pile.

    • azteclady 20/01/2016 at 12:40 PM #

      Oh, I hope you let me know how you like this one. I keep being enthralled by the language. There are some beautiful, lyrical passages in the next book that just took my breath away.

  3. Erin S. Burns 20/01/2016 at 12:42 PM #

    I was telling Miss Bates that I am seeing the flaw in this TBR Challenge, for every book I take off, I seem to be adding several more.

    • azteclady 20/01/2016 at 1:10 PM #

      Self defeating yet, oh, so satisfying!

      Personally, I’m ecstatic: I’m glomming a new to me author! I’m reading one book after another! This hasn’t happened in so long, I had almost forgotten the feeling.

  4. Bona 20/01/2016 at 3:42 PM #

    Now Ellis Peters and this series are added to my ‘virtual’ TBR list (in order to buy them ASAP). As simple as that.
    Why haven’t I read any of these books yet? They are historical novels, they’ve got a mystery and -it looks like- a lot of British sense of humour. Thank you for your review.

    • azteclady 20/01/2016 at 3:49 PM #

      They have wonderful, wonderful language. I think you’ll really enjoy them, Bona!

  5. Miss Bates 20/01/2016 at 5:03 PM #

    Oh, another lover of Peters and her Brother Cadfael. I read them in the 90s and never forgot them. They are much beloved and always worthy of rereading.

    • azteclady 20/01/2016 at 5:12 PM #

      I’m newly converted, but oh, boy, they are good.

      There’s a passage in Monkhood where Cadfael reflects about his past loves, that is so beautiful! I must review that one as well, just so I can quote that passage.

      • Miss Bates 20/01/2016 at 5:22 PM #

        Please do … such a fine fine writer!

      • azteclady 20/01/2016 at 8:44 PM #

        Twist my arm *just* a little harder… 😉

      • Miss Bates 20/01/2016 at 9:09 PM #


  6. Barb in Maryland 20/01/2016 at 6:03 PM #

    I fell in love with her mysteries way back in the early ’70s with her modern series featuring Inspector George Felse and his family. Then was thrilled when the Cadfael stories started coming along.
    I don’t really have much of a TBR; my mountain consists of all the books I want to re-read! The Cadfael books hold a firm place near the top of that stack. Now to find the time!

    • azteclady 20/01/2016 at 7:14 PM #

      Aren’t they wonderful? I really, really need to get the rest of the series, and probably the George Felse as well.

  7. bamaclmCarolyn 20/01/2016 at 7:12 PM #

    I’ve heard of this series of course, but was never tempted to try it because I was into romantic suspense, not pure mystery (except for Agatha and Georgette). But I’m burning out on romance. I want something between sweet and erotic and there’s not many out there. So, I’m ready to move on. 🙂 Still, I’m glad there are romantic elements in these books, because that is so much a part of life.

    The series is in ‘e’, so yay! Because I can’t read the paper print anymore and don’t buy anything but ebooks these days, even duplicating my prized paper keepers. (Sorry for the convoluted sentence.) Also the ebook is cheaper than the used paper offerings on Amazon! O.o

    • azteclady 20/01/2016 at 7:18 PM #

      Well, if they are less expensive than used copies, I may have to get the rest of the series in digital…maybe, I don’t know.

      But yes, these are wonderful. The romances in them (because it’s true of the ones I’ve read so far), are part of the stories, but not the focus, and they are sweet and very much appropriate to the period they are set in. And the language is so lovely! I think you’ll enjoy them, m’lady.

  8. laurakcurtis 20/01/2016 at 7:45 PM #

    I loved these books. In fact, when I taught an intro rhetoric course in writing about history, I used A Morbid Taste as one of the assigned readings. It was a hit. 🙂

    • azteclady 20/01/2016 at 8:36 PM #

      This makes me so happy!

      I love the idea of using genre fiction to show how it’s done!

  9. Kelley 20/01/2016 at 8:27 PM #

    I was nodding and smiling as I read your review. I love the Cadfael mysteries for all the same reasons, and it’s great to see another reader so excited about the series. I mainly listen to audio books these days, and I’ve been slowly buying some of the Cadfaels through Audible this past year. I have five so far, all narrated by Patrick Tull. If you happen to read any of Edith Pargeter’s Inspector Felse mysteries, please let us know what you think. I haven’t read them yet but keep thinking I should give one a try.

    My screen name is Kelley, btw, and I’m mostly a lurker. I primarily read mysteries and a wee bit of romantic suspense and historical romance when I need a break from the whodunits. I think I stumbled onto your blog by way of your DA comments. Or maybe not. 🙂 Don’t really remember at this point. Anyway, enjoyed your well articulated review of “A Morbid Taste for Bones” and hope the series continues to enchant.

    • azteclady 20/01/2016 at 8:39 PM #

      Welcome to my humble abode, Kelley!

      I wanted to say more, but at the same time, I really didn’t want to give too much away, but I could have rhapsodized longer if I didn’t mind giving spoilers.

  10. lynnaar 20/01/2016 at 8:55 PM #

    What a wonderful discovery! I haven’t reread these in ages, but I absolutely loved that series when I was in high school and college. Now you’ve got me hoping that I’ve saved some for a reread.

  11. Dorine 20/01/2016 at 9:29 PM #

    Great treasure hunting and fun review! I haven’t read them either so now I have go digging for them.

    • azteclady 20/01/2016 at 9:34 PM #

      If you have (subscribe to?) Kindle Unlimited, it’s free there right now. Otherwise, the digital copies seem to hover around five US dollars, and I’ve seen really cheap physical copies. (Like, say, mine 😉 )

  12. Lynn 21/01/2016 at 2:46 AM #

    I couldn’t resist, I picked this one up. So lucky to have found it digitally at my library! I don’t know what rock I’ve been living under but I haven’t heard of these before. The perfect sweet spot for me is a great mystery with some romance, realistically and naturally, thrown in. With so many commentators also saying what a great read it is, this was a no brainier.

    • azteclady 21/01/2016 at 7:00 AM #

      Yay! With any luck, you’ll like it just as much.

  13. Sonia 21/01/2016 at 5:10 AM #

    This does sound like an interesting book. I’ll check it out. But I’m simply glad a book could get you out of your slump and with flying colors at that!

    • azteclady 21/01/2016 at 7:05 AM #

      Thank you!

      I’m crossing my fingers–may it last!

      (There have been a couple of hopeful starts during the months-long slump that fizzled)

      • Sonia 23/01/2016 at 5:06 AM #

        The beauty of a good sized TBR list… you can always keep trying!! 😉

  14. Jules Jones 23/01/2016 at 5:05 PM #

    They’re wonderful, aren’t they? 🙂 As someone mentions above, they can get formulaic later in the series, so it’s as well not to read the lot back to back; but I enjoyed them all. And Derek Jacobi is utterly magnificent in the tv adaptation.

    • azteclady 23/01/2016 at 5:21 PM #

      *waving again*

      I seriously love the writing voice., but I am stopping now, as a matter of fact (well, right after I finish St Peter’s Fair–can’t very well stop mid-b00k).

  15. Darlynne 29/01/2016 at 11:33 PM #

    The Virgin in the Ice, An Excellent Mystery, Brother Cadfael’s Penance (the last book *sob*). Oh, the stories you have to look forward to.

    For a few years in the 90s, there was a fabulous exhibit called the Shrewsbury Quest in the town itself. It contained a working recreation of Cadfael’s herbarium and much of the cloister. There were mysteries to solve by following clues scattered throughout the grounds and gardens, culminating in a walk through a replica of Ms. Peters’ office and finally a gift center/tea shop. I visited four times over the years and loved every minute. Sadly, the quest closed when the town flooded.

    I got to meet Ms. Peters once and I was every bit as stupid and speechless as I feared I would be. But the books, those characters are priceless. I’m so glad you found your way to them.

    • azteclady 29/01/2016 at 11:38 PM #

      Thank you, Darlynne! And oh, how cool that you god to meet Ms Peters/Pageter!

  16. SuperWendy 09/02/2016 at 6:52 PM #

    Dagnabit – all these glowing endorsements, I might have to try these again. I listened to A Morbid Taste of Bones a billion years ago on audio because a librarian I worked with at the time LOVED this series. This is what I remember about my experience: I could appreciate that it was a good book, but it wasn’t my thing. I’m not sure why. I like medieval romances, so why not a medieval mystery? But for whatever reason once I was done with the first book I didn’t feel the burning need to go on with the series (I had the same reaction to Naked In Death by JD Robb so it’s entirely possibly I’m just cracked).

    Of course I was also in my early 20s at the time and my reading tastes have evolved in the last *ahem* several years. Maybe worth another look….

    (And I’m so happy you found a new author to glom – that’s always wonderful!)

    • azteclady 09/02/2016 at 6:54 PM #

      To each her own, m’lady Wendy–I read so many raving reviews of this or that author/series/trope, and I’m baffled by them. (Motorcycle clubs, anyone?)

  17. Darlynne 12/02/2016 at 5:51 PM #

    You may have already seen this, but the first ten books are on sale at Amazon for $1.99 each, today only.

    • bamaclm 12/02/2016 at 8:41 PM #

      Thank you for this! 🙂

      • azteclady 12/02/2016 at 10:22 PM #

        A good investment, mmm?

    • azteclady 12/02/2016 at 10:21 PM #

      I had not seen that, no–thanks!

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