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Sunday, January 30, 2011

cover of Ellis Peters' 'One Corpse Too Many'

In the twelfth century, the town and Abbey of Shrewsbury are caught up in the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud. Stephen's advisors have told him he's gone too easy on those who oppose him, so when the town of Shrewsbury falls Stephen decides to make an example of the 94 soldiers who guarded the citadel by hanging them from the castle walls. The Abbot asks the kind, thoughtful, level-headed Cadfael to take on the grisly task of preparing the hanged men for burial and cleaning them up so that the people of the town can claim any dead kinsmen. Cadfael, with his attention to detail, notices not only that there is one more body than expected, and that one of the men was strangled rather than hung. Cadfael uses his skill and knowledge to investigate this murder and figure out why and how this unknown young man ended up with the other 94 guards.

Cadfael's quick wit observant eye is made clear from the very beginning of the book, when a young lad named Godric is brought to stay in the Abbey and work with Cadfael in the gardens. Cadfael almost immediately guesses, and with a few quick, subtle tests confirms, that Godric is actually a girl-- in fact, she is Godith Adeney, daughter to one of the chief allies to the overthrown lord of Shrewsbury Castle, whom they failed to get away from the castle before it fell. Cadfael does his best to take care of the girl and preserve her from suspicion, even from Hugh Beringar, who has pledged himself to Stephen and promised to find Godith-- who was actually his betrothed-- by way of proving his loyalty.

I had seen the wonderful TV version of this story with Derek Jacobi several years ago, but it was long enough ago that I didn't remember too much of the story, except the fact that Hugh Beringar is not the bad guy-- the story leaves that open-ended for a while as Cadfael and Beringar match wits about getting Godith and the Shrewsbury treasure safely out of the area, and they are pretty well-matched, but by the end they have begun such allies in solving the murder that Hugh is willing to issue a challenge based on Cadfael's intuition of the culprit, with very little actual proof, and Cadfael fears greatly for his new friend's survival as the challenge goes forward.

Even though I had seen the TV version and knew the basic plot (with the details made hazy by time and memory), the book added so much more, and I found it very enjoyable to read. One thing I hadn't remembered or thought about was the impact of nobility and saving face would have on solving mysteries in this time period. Cadfael and Hugh figure out quite a bit more of what went on the night that the castle fell and the unknown man was murdered than they will tell anyone, in large part because they do not want to bring dishonor to a dead man and his family. Rather than exposing him, Beringar instead puts his life on the line and issues a challenge to bring about justice in a way that will not bring shame.

Title:One Corpse Too Many
Author:Ellis Peters
Date published:1979
Series:Brother Cadfael
Number of pages:214
Notes:loaned by Catey


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