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Brother Cadfael's Penance


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In Brother Cadfael's 20th chronicle, Peters deftly binds the medieval monk's new adventure with family ties, moving from issues intensely public to problems determinedly private. Olivier de Bretagne, who (unknown to himself) is Brother Cadfael's son, has been taken prisoner during England's dynastic war between two grandchildren of William the Conqueror. Cadfael is determined to find Olivier, although to do so he must leave the monastery without his abbot's ``leave or... blessing.'' The search begins badly when, at an unsuccessful peace conference, Yves Hugonin, Olivier's hot-headed brother-in-law, picks a fight with Brien de Soulis, a commander who may know where Olivier is held-but won't say. When Brien is found murdered, Yves is abducted by one who holds him responsible for the killing, and then Cadfael has two men to find. In the process, he delicately explores puzzles related to Brien's death and to shadowy deeds in the larger political scene. While Cadfael does his usual excellent sleuthing, Peters succeeds at an equally subtle game, demonstrating how personal devotion can turn to enmity-and how such enmity can be forestalled by justice and mercy. Mystery Guild selection. (Dec.)

The golden autumn of 1145 finds Brother Cadfael's peaceful world of the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul greatly disrupted when an official courier brings news of a terrible betrayal. Philip FitzRobert, the Empress Maud's greatest champion, has turned his coat and declared for King Stephen, imprisoning 30 of his vassal knights and squires who held true to the Empress. All of this political upheaval should not really affect an elderly monk, but when Hugh Beringer sees the list of imprisoned men, he and Cadfael recognize the name of Olivier de Bretagne. Fans of the series will also recognize the name of Cadfael's son, who was conceived during the Crusades, years before Cadfael was a monk. This young man has cropped up previously, but he is a pivotal character here because it is to rescue him that Cadfael breaks his vow of obedience and leaves his cloistered life. This is the 20th and final entry in Peters's beloved series and one of her best books. Listeners to Stephen Thorne's expert narration will be enthralled by the fascinating details of medieval siege warfare; the poignant ending is guaranteed to bring a lump to the throat. Essential.-Barbara A. Perkins, Irving P.L., TX Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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