In the summer of A.D. 1141, two Benedictine brothers seek refuge at the Abbey of Saints Peter and Paul in Shrewsbury. They have fled the city of Winchester, where their former abbey has gone up in flames, a casualty of the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud that still rages on. The older of the two refugees, Brother Humilis, is obviously a nobleman — and just as obviously dying from a mortal wound sustained many years ago in the Crusades. The younger man, Brother Fidelis, is mute, but he tends his fellow traveler with astonishing devotion. Brother Cadfael, due to his knowledge of herbs and their healing properties, spends a lot of time with these two brothers and eventually discovers that there is more to their story than meets the eye. Meanwhile, Cadfael also investigates the disappearance of a beautiful young woman who intended to become a nun but never arrived at her convent.
This book is the eleventh installment of the Cadfael series, but I think it can largely function as a stand-alone; newcomers to the series wouldn’t get lost if they jumped in here, though I still recommend starting with A Morbid Taste for Bones. These books are always comfort reads for me. I love the historical setting of a medieval monastery, and I enjoy seeing how Cadfael’s small world is affected by larger historical events. I also like the fact that these mysteries are firmly on the “cozy” end of the spectrum; there is often murder, but it’s never grisly, and there’s also romance and humor and a lot of lovely descriptions of monastic life. As for this book in particular, I definitely enjoyed it, but I’m pretty sure I read something about the solution to the mystery ahead of time, because it definitely didn’t surprise me. In fact, I think the resolution is fairly predictable even if you haven’t been spoiled. However, I still liked this book a lot and look forward to the next installment of the Cadfael series!