Cadfael's former apprentice Brother Mark has left the nest as the story begins. One of the great joys in this book is to see the continued growth of Mark as a minister. In fact it is Mark, more so than Cadfael, who finds himself in the center of the action in "The Leper of Saint Giles."
This is a story that has a lot to do with the meaning of identity and the impact of deception. The basic plot revolves around a lowly squire who loves a wealthy heiress. The problem is, the heiress' wretched relations are intent on marrying her off for financial gain. From this rather nasty situation springs murder and false accusation. It is the job of Cadfael and Mark to make things right.
The more I read of Ellis Peters, the more I admire her work. She had a unique literary voice. So much wisdom is imparted in each story. This is doubly true in "The Leper of St. Giles." The reader is left questioning the actions of Cadfael and pondering the meaning of Justice.
While I am left with many questions and I missed Cadfael's old buddy Hugh, I found this book to be one of the more satisfying Cadfael stories. I highly recommend "The Leper of St. Giles."
Brother Cadfael is at his best. He is both a spiritual being and a worldly one. He is as comfortable in the church as he is talking with a knights mistress. Cadfael has an innate ability to sense what is good in true in a person and works actively to support those with just causes. In the instance of this novel it is a young squire, Joss and a wealthy heiress Iveta. Iveta is a pawn of her aunt and uncle who plan to marry her to an aging knight and divide her land between them. Joss loves Iveta and plans on finding away to protect her. when a murder halts the marriage, Joss is the first suspect.
The setting is once again the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Shrewsbury, but this time it also includes the leper colony of Saint Giles. the reader is introduced to some of the horrors and indignities which the lepers lived through. Brother Mark works among them and recognizes the dignity of the human spirit.
I suggest this book as reading for those who love medieval mysteries.
There is the sense of place. In this case, the book lets the reader into the world of the lepers. Set aside by humanity, the leper colony of St. Giles proves a multi-dimensional world with an integral role in the plot.
There is romance. As in most of the books in this series, Cadfael lends a sympathetic ear to a smitten pair. In this case, their obstacles are many and it's a fun read as things are unraveled.
And then there is Cadfael seeing what others miss. It is Cadfael that notices a twig of a rare flower near the dead body. Likewise, Cadfael sees some bruising on the body that could only be caused by a certain ring. And more than once, Cadfael simply applies his experiences to discern what human nature is most likely to do.
My gripes with the book are worth a point off. Foremost, the author seems to have forgotten rule number one of detection (surely as applicable then as now) - who would benefit financially from the death? I also missed Hugh's presence. And a most minor quandry -- were they really able to tell time to the point of distinguishing between 6:15 and 6:20 back then???
Bottom-line: a very solid and pleasant read for fans of historical mysteries. Reading of earlier books in the series would be helpful but isn't necessary.