Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Leper of St. Giles

A short review this time as I'm in danger of falling hopelessly behind in my reviews!

The Leper of Saint Giles (1981) is the fifth installment in the Brother Cadfael series of medieval mystery novels (see my previous entry for general information on the circumstances of the series).  I'm in the middle of casually (re)reading the novels.

The novel opens as a wedding party makes its way to Shrewsbury Abbey.  A callous, middle-aged noble, Huon de Domville, is marrying Iveta de Massard, a young maiden whose grandfather Cadfael knew from the First Crusade.  It is immediately obvious to all present that this is a marriage arranged by the maiden's guardians for the sole purpose of advancing their own fortunes rather than for the happiness of Iveta.

Shortly after their arrival in the village, Cadfael stumbles upon Iveta and Joscelin Lucy, a young squire in the employ of de Domville, in his workshop.  The two, secretly in love, have met to console each other over the impending nuptials.  In a fit of youthful indiscretion, the young man declares to Cadfael that he would go so far as to commit murder to prevent Iveta from marrying.

Not so surprisingly, the next morning de Domville is found murdered in the forest.  The hunt is soon on for the squire, who takes refuge a place that lies wholly separate from normal medieval society--a leper colony run by the monks on the outskirts of town.  The novel has a fascinating description of how and why lepers set themselves apart from society during the Middle Ages.  Brother Cadfael, being a softy at heart when it comes to young lovers, is determined to get the bottom of the de Domville's murder to absolve Joscelin of the crime.

I would rate The Leper of Saint Giles the best of the series that I have (re)read so far (mind you, I've only read three so far).  The pace is swift, and Peters' characters are, as always, well drawn out.  The descriptions of medieval society, and, specifically, the place of lepers within it, really made this novel stand out from the others.

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