Brother Cadfael is called upon to administer rites to some hanged prisoners. He is told there are 94 corpses, but his own careful count reveals 95. Once again he finds himself investigating murder.
This is the only Cadfael book that I've read (so far), and so my observations are not influenced by other books in the series. From the start, I was drawn in by the convincing evocation of medieval Shrewsbury, a little universe consisting of castle, town, and monastery, and its population of knights, monks, bondsmen, ladies, and Flemish mercenaries. Cadfael, the middle-aged warrior-turned-monastic, with his spiritual outlook and worldly knowledge, is a strong and lovable protagonist. The wily, nonchalant knight Hugh Beringar makes a worthy adversary.
The mystery itself--the "one corpse too many" found among the pile of executed enemies of the king--is actually secondary to the main story of the book: whether Cadfael will succeed in helping a young fugitive, Godric, escape the wrath of the king. The skillful interweaving of these plots, along with not one but two nice little love stories, make this book a refreshing change from the standard mystery. The juxtaposition of spiritual and worldly values is well handled and gives the book a feeling of depth.
Most novels nowadays are too poorly written to be worth finishing. Not this one: Peters's prose style is vivid and clean, comparable to Mary Stewart when she was at the top of her game with her Merlin books. I give it 4 stars out of 5 only because you need somewhere further to go for the truly great works of literature. As far as mysteries go, they don't get better than this.
I cannot make heads or tales of whether I like "One Corpse Too Many" as much or more than the first book in the series (A Morbid Taste For Bones). Both books are quite good. However, with the exception that they are both mysteries featuring Brother Cadfael, they are quite different. This gives me great hope for the rest of the series. The character of Cadfael is developed successfully and Peters avoids being formulaic.
I missed some of the characters from "A Morbid Taste For Bones" (particularly the pompous presence of Prior Robert). Yet there are some great new characters in book two. My favorites are "the boy Godric" and the wily and resourceful Hugh Beringar. The dual love stories of "One Corpse Too Many" add another dimension to the book.
Cadfael's closing comments (in which the title phrase is used) are well worth the price of the book. All in all, I give "One Corpse Too Many" a heartfelt recommendation.
I still believe I prefer the straight forward detective approach in Cadfael novels, but I think that Ellis Peters was concerned with writing vaguely the same story over and again and so attempted to branch out from the typical style of story one might expect for a crime novel. I think she should be applauded for this, and although it in some cases this means a weaker end product, I do think it is beneficial to the Cadfael series as a whole.
Whatever the story in a Cadfael novel, we are as always treated to the exciting and enchanting world that Peters has decided to portray. A glimpse of what life may truly have been like in the 12th century, or at least we can believe that some parts of the novel could at least be a little bit historically accurate.
The fun is in accepting that you do not which parts are and so we can allow ourselves the pretence that it is, in fact, all true.
In this book the second of Ellis Peter's Brother Cadfael series we find Shrewsbury in 1138 in deep trouble. Read more