This sixth in the series of tales of Brother Cadfael is less obviously a whodunit and much more of a thriller or twelfth century adventure story. It is set in the English Marches, amidst the chaos ensuing from the sacking of Worcester by supporters of the Empress Maud against King Stephen in November 1139. The action takes place in Ludlow (mid-way between Cadfael's normal haunts of Shrewsbury, and the beleaguered city of Worcester) where our hero is ostensibly nursing back to health a Benedictine brother who has seemingly been waylaid by a band of outlaws, stripped and left for dead.
Whilst in Ludlow, Cadfael also finds himself embroiled in the hunt for a party of three young persons missing after the attacks on Worcester and known to be heading for Shrewsbury, at which destination they have failed to arrive. With a bitter freeze and the winter's first snows on hand, there are grave concerns for their safety and well-being. One of the three is subsequently found dead - obviously killed and dumped in a watery (now icy) grave on the very night that the good monk's patient was attacked.
Unlike many another Cadfael tale, this one moves along with a gripping sense of urgency and with a fair amount of tension and excitement building gradually as things proceed. It contains Ellis Peters' usual meticulous attention to both historical and narrative detail and constitutes as riveting - and entertaining - a story as you are likely to find. As always, Cadfael is aware of details overlooked by others and never once loses sight of the smaller issues that are wont to become subsumed into the larger, weightier ones. He (and the regular reader) is provided with an unlooked-for reward in this volume, too.
This book has to be one of the very best of the Cadfael Chronicles and is unreservedly recommended for lovers of the genre. Its story line stands somewhat apart from others in the series, making it fairly unimportant where it is read in the sequence.