Monk’s Hood by Ellis Peters

Monk's Hood1138, Shrewsbury Abbey. Brother Cadfael is tending his herbs when he is called to the home of Gervaise Bonel, a man who has moved to the area and has willed his estate to the abbey, ahead of his stepson. Bonel is dining with his family and the Prior has sent a special meal for Bonel himself. But by the time it reached his mouth, the dish was laced with monk’s hood, an additive that proves lethal.

Suspicion soon settles on his stepson but Cadfael is not convinced – his past relationship with the boy’s mother means that he trusts her opinion. But with the sheriff pursuing young Edwin, it’s up to Cadfael to keep him out of the hands of the law and to find the real killer.

Book three of the Brother Cadfael series – I’ve visited it before with A Morbid Taste For Bones and An Excellent Mystery (the most incorrectly named book EVER) – and so far, I’ve never been enamoured by it. But as with a couple of other authors, the books are insanely popular – this one (honestly) has a higher Goodreads rating than The ABC Murders – so occasionally I like to revisit the series to try and spot the attraction. It stood out as I was looking for books for Past Offences Crimes Of The Century 1980 meme, so figured it was worth a punt. So did this one do the trick?

Absolutely not. Not remotely. So what’s wrong with this one?

Well, basically, it’s boring. So dull and without a trace of humour. Not that it’s dark, just completely flat. The murderer is obvious – there’s no cleverness to the plotting – and there’s so little to the book that it felt padded in the extreme, and it’s not that long a book. There’s a lovely surprise on the ebook version that the last 20% is a preview of the next book, so it ends much earlier than expected. Very welcome.

Seriously, who actually thinks this is a better book that The ABC Murders? Anyone? Thought not. I’d never say that I’m right and you’re wrong, but I’m coming blooming close in this case. Anyway, I can’t be bothered to waste my energy typing any more on this one. Bleurgh. Not Remotely Recommended. And I won’t be returning to Brother Cadfael. Give me Brother Athelstan any day.

In fact, if any of Cadfael’s fans out there want to disagree, feel free, but do take a look at By Murder’s Bright Light first – only £3 on ebook. And then tell me that Cadfael is the finest medieval sleuth out there…

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17 comments

  1. I assumed you would hate this one (but who takes the goodreads rankings seriously? tut tut) and must admit, can’t remember anything from my reading of it back in the 80s (or the TV version with Derek Jacobi either), She got in there very early with the genre, so I think a lot of the affection rests in that. Plus, styles and tastes change, let’s face it. Went to a Peter signing once and she couldn’t have been nicer …

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    • Well I hoped it would be third time lucky but no. So no more Cadfael for me.

      As for the rankings, at least Goodreads is rating the books themselves unlike Amazon’s 1-star “the postman was ten minutes later than usual” reviews.

      As for Peters being nice, I’ve yet to meet an unpleasant author – those ones probably aren’t let out for public appearances. But as a section of society, they do seem to right up the top on the niceness scale. Glad to know that Ellis Peters was a nice one too.

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  2. To my shame, I’ve never really read any “straight” historical mysteries (by which I guess I mean standard setup detective stories with a pre-19th century setting). I’ve read plenty of higher concept ones (e.g., Name of the Rose, An Instance of the Fingerpost, etc. etc.) but nothing that’s just a standard story without a hint of metafiction to it. And reading this review, I’ve realised Cadfael is the reason. I read two or three of them when I was younger, and they were so boring and listless that they completely soured me on the genre. Obviously now I’ve had this epiphany I’m going to immediately go off and read some Paul Doherty! But you’re not alone in your dislike for Brother C.

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  3. This is the only Cadfael mystery I’ve read, and while I did enjoy some moments of characterisation, I agree that the quality of mystery just isn’t on par with the Athelstan/ Corbett series. If anything, the puzzle seems somewhat incidental to the purpose of the novel – at best a light setting for the interplay between the characters? What was telling was that I didn’t pick up any other of Ellis Peter’s works after that…!

    On a slightly tangential note that’s only barely relevant in terms of giving a series with a weak start another shot… I believe you weren’t overly impressed with the first British Library Crime Classic you read, John Bude’s ‘Cornish Coast Mystery’ – and again, I concur with your opinion. But I just finished Freeman Wills Crofts’s ‘Hog’s Back Mystery’, which I found to be enjoyable – perhaps the series and the selection of titles is taking a turn for the better?

    Back to ‘Monk’s Hood’ – I’m surprised, even disappointed for Christie, that it garnered better ratings than ‘ABC Murders’. That’s not my favourite Poirot novel – but it surely boasts of a far superior puzzle…!

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  4. I’ve probably read three of the Cadfaels, and like yourself found them pretty dreary (although better than the solitary contemporary detective novel of hers I read). I’m less bothered by the mystery aspect of crime novels than you evidently are; it was the actual writing of these that I found wanting. There was no great sense of place or character, and the prose just sort of bumped along.

    On the other hand, I’ve known plenty of people whose views I respect (including two whom I’ve married 🙂 ) who’ve really enjoyed this series.

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  5. It’s been many years since I read her books but I always liked her other series better. I forget the name of it. Never really cared much for Cadfael either. Suppose I should not say anything about Derek Jacobi’s look – like someone just smacked him between the eyes. It must be some photo of him I’m remembering.

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