St Peter’s Fair is the fourth book in the Brother Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters.
Quick Review (read on for full review)
An engaging and entertaining medieval whodunnit, with a fantastic ending. Cosy, comfortable and easy. Always a joy to read. 5 /5
Summary (from back of book)
The great annual Fair of Saint Peter at Shrewsbury, a high point in the city’s calendar, attract merchants from far and wide to do business. But when an unseemly quarrel breaks out between the local burghers and the monks from the Benedictine monastery as to who shall benefit from the levies the fair provides, a riot ensues. Afterwards a merchant is found dead – and Brother Cadfael is summoned from his peaceful monastery herb-garden to test his skills as a detective once more.
‘There’s very little to be known about this precinct and the town of Shrewsbury,’ agreed Aline with conviction, ‘that Brother Cadfael does not know.’
(Saint Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters, pg 60)
‘Penitence is in the heart, not in the words spoken.’
(Saint Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters, pg 63)
St Peter’s Fair is an engaging and entertaining read in the Brother Cadfael series. The premise of the local religious house disagreeing with the town it is almost part of yet separate from, is always an interesting one. Here, the focus is on travelling merchants, in town for St Peter’s Fair, a celebration of one of the saints after whom the abbey is named. However, there is so much more than that going on beneath the surface.
Having seen the TV adaptation of this book many more times than I have read it (read “I’ve never read this instalment in the series), I found this particular Cadfael story surprised me, and I enjoyed it so much (the TV adaptation although very good, is not my favourite). And this reminds me that it can be quite difficult -in some cases, impossible – for me at any rate, to distance myself from the dramatization when thinking of or reading the book.
Ellis Peters is very good at understanding people and creating characters and it shows in her books, especially this one. We have hot-headed yet ultimately harmless youths with a grievance, bold merchants, an Under Sheriff who is sensible in the pursuit of justice, and two medieval women who are both strong and astute. The latter, Emma Vernold – the daughter of a merchant from Bristol – and Aline, Hugh Beringer’s wife, I liked a lot.
The author is also very good at recreating historical time periods in her books. The description and detail is never too heavy, but there is enough to immerse the reader in the sights and sounds of each setting. It is easy to think of the medieval world as hard and bland and colourless. Although it was hard for most, the work back-breaking for many, and life could be terribly unfair and short, these glimpses into medieval life show it wasn’t like that for everyone, all the time.
These cosy historical mysteries are a joy to read; comfortable and easy. The ending was very good, and the romantic subplot added an extra dimension to the story.
I enjoyed this fourth Cadfael book more than the last one I read, and I enjoyed that one very much having awarded Monk’s Hood (read the review here) a 4.5 star rating. So I can do no other than give St Peter’s Fair the full five.