In December of A.D. 1141, the Benedictine Abbey of Sts. Peter and Paul in Shrewsbury welcomes a new parish priest to Holy Cross Church in the Abbey Foregate. The former priest was a kindly old man much beloved by his parishioners, so everyone is nervous about what to expect from the newcomer. Father Ainoth soon confirms the monks’ worst fears: although he is a scholar and a scrupulously holy man, he is extremely harsh with his congregation and soon stirs up bad feeling in Shrewsbury. When his drowned corpse is found in the river near the mill, it’s up to Brother Cadfael, herbalist and amateur detective, to solve the mystery. Cadfael also acquires a new assistant, supposedly the nephew of Father Ainoth’s houskeeper, but it soon becomes obvious that the boy is more than he seems. Meanwhile, both the abbey and the town continue to be affected by the ongoing civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud.
This book is the 12th installment of the Cadfael series, and anyone who likes the series will enjoy this book as well. Once again Cadfael finds himself in the position of having to solve a murder, aid a pair of young lovers, uncover a political secret, and hide that secret from the local authorities in the interest of a higher justice. As a longtime fan of the series, I can’t help but love every Cadfael book, but I must admit that the prose does occasionally veer toward the purple end of the spectrum. Also, because Peters sticks to almost the same formula in every book, I found the plot pretty predictable. I was a bit disappointed that the murder and the political intrigue weren’t more closely connected; I thought more could have been done with certain aspects of the story to make the plot more exciting. Still, I love the series and definitely plan to read the remaining eight books. They’re wonderfully relaxing reads if you enjoy a medieval setting!