"Monk's-Hood" is Ellis Peters' third Brother Cadfael mystery, following nicely on from "One Corpse Too Many". It is set at the close of the year 1138. Almost six months have elapsed since King Stephen's army laid siege to and finally took the English town of Shrewsbury. But, whilst the King may have withdrawn his forces, and departed the town to impress his claim to the English throne on other areas of the Kingdom, murderous deeds are still afoot on the Welsh Marches. And, once again, Brother Cadfael finds himself firmly in the midst of it all.
The tale this time involves the mysterious poisoning of a guest of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul, by means, what's more, of one of Brother Cadfael's own healing concoctions. With his own - as well as the Abbey's - honour at stake, Cadfael refuses to let matters lie, especially when the sheriff's somewhat over-zealous sergeant appears to be rather hastily leaping to the wrong conclusion as to who is responsible for the dire deed. To add further complications to the task before our mediaeval sleuth, Cadfael suddenly finds himself confined to the Abbey precincts by a more than usually overweening Prior Robert. As always, though, Cadfael's greater humility and wit (aided somewhat by divine providence) win out in the end, with our hero triumphing over arrogant authority of both secular and cloistered varieties.
Ellis Peters uses her own flawless wit and easy flowing prose to spin an enchanting and compulsive story around the central mystery, although the book is not really of the classic whodunnit mould. Her ingenious tale of family intrigue unfolds at a wonderfully leisurely pace, with the reader following a tantalising breadcrumb trail of snippets of information, released at just the right rate to ensure that the reader does not solve the mystery before Cadfael himself. Along the way, we learn something of the complex political and social webs common to Mediaeval life on the English/Welsh borders, as well as much more about the past life of the book's central character. As ever, attention to historical detail is meticulous.
Whether you read this book in sequence or not depends on how much of a purist you are. Reading later volumes before this one will give away something of the book's very ending, though not so much that it will in any way be spoiled. Reading this (or any later ones) before the first two would be a mistake, though, as that undermines some aspects of the first volumes' mysteries. There is no need to have read any earlier volumes, though, if you just want to pick this one up and enjoy it!