Thursday, May 17, 2012
Review of The Raven in the Foregate by Ellis Peters
Saying something negative about Ellis Peters is tantamount to criticizing Agatha Christie. Peters’ Brother Cadfael series, set in twelfth century England, has been made into a television series featuring Derek Jacobi as the monk/sleuth, is evidence of just how popular her work is.
Still, the twelfth novel The Raven in the Foregate doesn’t quite measure up to the standards set by the previous eleven books.
Set at Christmas in 1141, Abbot Radulfus returns from a meeting with the bishop with a young priest Ailnoth, assigned to the parish of the Holy Cross. Ailnoth quickly makes himself unpopular by his strict, overzealous and selfish ways. It isn’t long before half the village has reason to hate him. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to the reader when his body is discovered in the mill pond with a wound to the back of his head.
Could it have been the baker whom Ailnoth accused of cheating his customers? Or could it have been the father of the baby who died shortly after birth unshriven because the priest refused to interrupt his own prayers? Or maybe it was the sympathizers to Empress Maud who has been beaten back by her cousin King Stephen in her efforts to overtake the throne?
It is only Brother Cadfael who can sort through the murky clues to discover what really happened to the priest, but he seems to spend as much time investigating the death of Ailnoth as he does sheltering the young man whose aunt accompanied the priest to Shrewsbury. Since Cadfael has no allegiance to either King Stephen or Empress Maud, he knows that the current public opinion is in favor of the king and the young man is ready to take up arms for Maud.
The conclusion of the mystery is almost a disappointment, as it seems that Cafael, usually extremely observant, should miss an important clue that reveals the truth until the last moment. As in previous novels, he’s pieced together fragments of clues and used his keen intelligence to figure it out.
Another aspect is a ruse by Hugh Beringar to ferret out the murderer. It’s out of character for the shrewd sheriff and it falls flat. One wonders why Peters included this in the story.
The Raven in the Foregate just didn’t have the magic of most Peters’ novels.