Twelfth-century sleuth Brother Cadfael must solve a puzzling murder case and locate the sacred bones stolen from the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Shrewsbury. Tour.
In the summer of 1144, Geoffrey de Mandeville - after more than a year of running the Fens as his own private robber kingdom - was shot almost by accident during a siege, and died from the infected wound. His lengthy death gave him no chance to receive absolution - only the Pope could have absolved one guilty of the seizure of the abbey of Ramsey - but Geoffrey's followers did what they could for him, restoring the despoiled abbey to its scattered monks. Thus the abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul receives two guests of their own order from Ramsey - grim subprior Herluin and his appealing assistant Tutilo - asking leave to preach. Ramsey needs money, materials, and labour to undo the damage left by Geoffrey's marauders.
Herluin guided their footsteps to Shrewsbury not only to request assistance, but to recall Sulien Blount of Longner, sometime novice of Ramsey, who was sent home to reconsider his vocation. (See _The Potter's Field_ for details.) Cadfael, therefore, accompanies Herluin and his young companion Tutilo to Longner to speak with Sulien - and appeal for the Blounts' generosity toward Ramsey. While Herluin pursues his errand, Cadfael introduces Tutilo to Sulien's dying mother, the formidable Donata, who is more than happy to welcome a bard, even if he's now a novice monk. (Their friendship, brief as it is, is touching.) Young Tutilo is what would now be called a renaissance man, and would be wasted as a monk - if he ever gets that far after meeting the Irish girl Daalny, slave to the Provencal troubadour staying at the abbey guesthouse. Daalny's voice is such as to attract any musician - part of the troubadour's stock in trade. Nevertheless, Tutilo seems passionate enough on Ramsey's behalf.
Unfortunately, someone appears to have been a little *too* enthusiastic for Ramsey's sake - while preparing for a flood, someone stole St. Winifred's relics, and the chief suspects are the brothers of Ramsey. How, after all, could anyone steal the reliquary if the saint didn't *want* to go elsewhere? To further complicate the ensuing dispute over the saint's wishes, the reliquary comes into the hands of Earl Robert "Bossu" Beaumont, a brilliant man with a sly sense of humor who decides to further complicate matters by pointing out that the saint came to rest in *his* care and seems content to stay there. (Robert - who was a real person, incidentally - here makes his debut in the series as a very impressive figure; the crooked back that gave him his nickname doesn't hinder him at all.) Only Brother Cadfael and his confidant Hugh Beringar know just how complicated this situation really is - before a man on the fringes of the quarrel is murdered on a dark night. But was he killed for himself - or because he was mistaken for one of the disputants?
Very nicely ties up some loose ends from _The Potter's Field_, while raking up the old problem of the reliquary very creatively. Robert Bossu alone would be worth the price of admission. :)
Adding to the story element of mystery and mysticism are some of the rituals utilized by the churchmen to help them in solving the crimes. A particularly engaging episode concerns their random selection of passages from the New Testament to guide them in their quest. Ms. Peters also makes colorful reference to blackthorn leaves in Brother Cadfael's efforts to resolve the mystery.
In "The Holy Thief," the 19th chronicle of Brother Cadfael, Peters continues her top-flight form of the medieval whodunnit and, as usual, her protagonist, the good Benedictine monk, rides to the rescue and solution.
The year is 1144--and still King Stephen and Empress Maud are struggling in an interminable civil war, with no solution in sight. However, that historical fact is mere backdrop--as it usually is--to a more local concern. A renowned earl (Essex) is killed by an arrow, but not before he tries to make amends with Heaven by restoring some of the properties he had earlier "gained." This includes the abbey of Ramsey, a run-down site badly in need of more worldly help. The abbey sends envoys out, and one such envoy arrives in Shrewsbury, at the abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Cadfael's domain. The envoy includes Brother Herluin and his young novice Tutilo, who possesses a great singing voice along with other musical skills. In Shrewsbury is also, as the plot would have it, a beautiful slave girl (also a singer) named Daalny.
Suffice it to say, Peters lays a solid romantic setting. But the rains come, so much so that much of the abbey's possessions, including the holy relics, must be moved to safety. But not so safely after all, as a theft is discovered. And this soon leads to--you have it--a murder.
And Cadfael takes over. Using not only his brilliance, but his skills as the abbey's herbalist, Cadfael wastes no time in carefully solving the crime. Of course, as in all the Cadfael adventures, the murder is solved. The solution rarely comes easily for this ex-crusader, nor should it. Peters does not rush into her novels, which are characterized by logic and sound research.
Peters' very successful series has been adapted to TV, and while the episodes are generally very good, the televised portrayal of both Cadfael and the story line leaves quite a bit to be desired, as good as they are. The books are the better choice. I have never been disappointed and "The Holy Thief" is no exception.