As the Anarchy rages across England, the town of Shrewsbury has changed its allegiance from King Stephen to the Empress Maud. Besieged, the town falls to the king and orders the execution of the castle’s garrison. Once the punishment has been meted out, he sends for the Benedictine brothers at St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s to help identify the dead and prepare them for Christian burial.
The Abbot Heribert naturally chooses to send Brother Cadfael, a former soldier and crusader to oversee this grisly task but what he is confronted with is more than the king’s justice. A man has been murdered, his body smuggled in amongst the executed garrison.
But who is he and why was he killed?
As the first book in the Cadfael Chronicles takes us on a journey to rural Wales to retrieve a Welsh saint’s bones, One Corpse Too Many offers us a greater glimpse into the world of medieval Shrewsbury and its surrounds, as well as a closer look at the abbey itself, which is Brother Cadfael’s home. We are also introduced to a number of characters who we will meet many times as we move through the series.
The level of detail threaded throughout the narrative helps to paint a vivid and realistic town, peopled with real characters, during this turbulent period of English history. What I love most about this instalment in the series is that we are shown how astute and perceptive Cadfael is, and how he doesn’t allow anything, especially politics, to colour his view of the world and the people around him, nor interfere with his judgement. He will do what he thinks is right, whatever that entails and that makes him an endearing character as well as an interesting one.
Alongside Brother Cadfael (who is, as I am sure I have mentioned before, one of my favourite fictional detectives), my other favourite characters that we come across in this edition are Hugh Beringer, Lady Aline Siward, Godric and Torold Blund. And the ending, which I won’t discuss (of course!), is one of the best story endings I have read.
To those who enjoy medieval fiction and detective fiction, I recommend this series, wholeheartedly. I am looking forward to rereading and reviewing the third book in the Cadfael Chronicles, Monks Hood.