An Excellent Mystery by Ellis Peters

Excellent Mystery1141 and the Empress Matilda, despite capturing King Stephen, has been beaten back by the Queen’s army as the tide is turning during the so-called Anarchy. Two monks, fleeing the conflict, take sanctuary at Shrewsbury, in the monastical home of Brother Cadfael, but they are pursued by a young noble who is desperate to find his one true love. She was wronged by the elder monk, who took holy orders rather than marry her, but seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. Cadfael finds himself drawn into the events, but can even he get to the bottom of this “Excellent Mystery”?

The second in my series of revisiting neglected authors. Well, actually the third, but the review copy of a book by an author that I won’t name bored me to tears and I didn’t finish that one. But as you may know, the review policy is that if someone asks for a review and I don’t like the book, then I don’t post on it. But if it’s a book that I bought, then the gloves can come off…

Amazon 4.4 stars. Goodreads 4.2 stars. Must be good, mustn’t it?

Ready? Here we go.

Absolutely. Bloody. Awful.

The Anarchy is one of the most brutal in English history and despite some crucial events being described here, it’s all rather flat. The author clearly has a romantic streak to her writing but it really doesn’t work when it’s describing warfare. I suppose you could excuse most of the descriptions being made by characters who don’t want to dwell on the horrors on their doorstep, but I think that’s being a bit charitable.

Motivations aren’t much of a strength here either. The character who is searching high and low for his one true love – well, he met her once three years previously, yet is worryingly obsessed over her fate. Add in the odd subplot concerning Brother Urien, and there are some very strange – to be honest, unbelievable – behaviour going on.

Why is it called An Excellent Mystery? Well, it’s from a quote from the Book of Common Prayer about Matrimony. Quite possibly, it’s a good description of that. It’s a bloody awful description of this book though. As a mystery, this is wretchedly obvious. The truth of the rather tedious events here is thunderingly obvious – I read the blurb to my good lady wife and she told me (correctly) what was happening when I was barely halfway through.

One good point – the last 25% of the ebook I was reading was put aside for a preview of the next book, so I finished it earlier than expected.

I’m sure there may be some irate Cadfael fans out there, but if there are, may I suggest investing in The Nightingale Gallery by Paul Doherty. It also features a crime-solving monk – sorry, friar – but there is a genuinely complex mystery and history with some true colour. As for this one, it’s convinced me to abandon Cadfael – this was recommended to me as one of the better titles in the series – to be honest, I’d rather read The Monogram Murders again!



  1. I have not read any of these, so I have no opinion. I have the first 3 in the series, so I am sure I will try them some day. I hope I like them a bit better than you liked this one.


      • I just took a look, and as you say, only slightly more positive. Oh well, I will still give them a try. I have read the first in the Inspector Felse series. It wasn’t the best book I read, but I do plan to continue that one. I like the time period.


  2. I read quite a few of these in the 80s and even got to meet the lady herself at a book signing (at the late lamented Murder One in Charing Cross Road) but they haven’t stayed with me particularly. I am a lot less expert when it comes to historical mysteries chum, so I’m sure you’re right – sorry it was so catastrophic a read!


  3. I read a couple of the Cadfaels, back in the day, and wasn’t much enthralled — although I didn’t dislike them as much as you obviously did this one! On the other hand, I have friends whose reading tastes I respect (including two wives) who’ve devoured them.


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