My grandmother recently moved house and in an effort to help her “slim down” her vast quantity of belongings so that it would all fit in one lorry, I agreed to go through her bookshelves and see if anything took my fancy. Needless to say there wasn’t a lot which did. The one thing she did manage to foist on me was a copy of the first book in the Cadfael series by Ellis Peters: A Morbid Taste for Bones.
Now it’s fair to say that I have never been tempted by Cadfael; I’m aware of the TV series starring Derek Jacobi and I did know that it was based on books but I never pictured myself reading any of them. So Bones went on my bookshelf and stayed there for quite some time.
But there came a time quite recently when I was getting low on new books and needed something small and light to carry around with me so Cadfael was rescued from lying forgotten on the bookshelf and in my backpack it went.
I don’t quite know what I was expecting from Cadfael but I was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered. A part of me imagined I would be thoroughly chastised for my heathen ways but I’m glad to say that this was not the case. Naturally God was mentioned now and again but Cadfael himself was refreshingly down to earth and non-devout for a 12th century monk. His scathing assessment of the more devout brothers and blatant cynicism towards the “miracles” occurring throughout the book led me to really warm to the guy which was quite unexpected. The characters may not have been as deep and multi-faceted as they are in other series but for a crime story they were more realistic than I have come to expect.
The murder when it came was complex and although I was able to see through most of the red herrings I was still surprised by the outcome. The ending itself was quite a shock, not at all what I had expected from what I previously viewed as a religious series, it would certainly make me think twice before trusting a monk.
The old adage about judging books by their covers comes to mind as I’m writing this although in my case it was more like judging Benedictine monks by their habits. Well I have learnt my lesson and while I can’t promise that I’ll read any more of Cadfael’s adventures but should I stumble across one at some point I won’t turn it down flat.